Impertinent or descriptive? Judge refuses to strike these phrases from driver’s suit against officer

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A federal judge in Alexandria, Virginia, has rejected a motion to strike the phrases “driving while black” and “contempt of cop” from a lawsuit filed by a black driver against a white deputy sheriff.

U.S. District Judge Anthony Trenga ruled from the bench on Friday in a suit alleging false arrest, a Washington Post columnist reports.

The amended lawsuit, filed by ride-share driver George Wingate, claims deputy Scott Fulford approached after Wingate had pulled his car over to investigate why his “check engine” light came on. The officer asked Wingate for his name and apparently deemed Wingate’s refusal to answer to be “contempt of cop,” according to the suit.

The officer arrested Wingate, demonstrating “the risks of driving while black,” the suit says. According to the suit, Fulford falsely told Wingate his refusal to give his name was a crime.

Trenga refused to order the phrases stricken from the suit, but he did grant the motion to strike a YouTube hyperlink to an edited, unauthenticated video of the arrest. Trenga’s order allowed Wingate to substitute a complete video recording.

Lawyers for Fulford had sought to force removal of the two phrases in a motion to strike “immaterial, impertinent, and scandalous matter.” Fulford’s lawyer, Alexander Francuzenko, argued that the language is “an unnecessary rhetorical device used for the sole purpose of inflaming the passions of the public and the court.” The phrases induced an “overzealous and biased response” by the media, which wrote stories branding the deputy as racially motivated, Francuzenko’s motion said. Examples were attached.

The lawyer for Wingate, Victor Glasberg, told the judge on Friday that the phrases highlighted racism in the justice system, according to the Washington Post account. “What happened to George Wingate represents ‘driving while black,’ ” he said. And the motion to strike the phrases “represents ‘thinking while white,’ ” he said.

Wingate’s suit highlights the consequences of his own arrest. According to the suit, Wingate “did not cooperate in being handcuffed,” and he “impetuously broke free and ran.” Deputies captured Wingate and charged him with obstruction of justice. Wingate was jailed overnight before prosecutors dropped charges. Wingate couldn’t afford to pay impounding and towing fees for his car, and it was ultimately repossessed. As a result, he lost his livelihood.




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