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ACLU: DC Officer Unlawfully Searched Yard After Man Killed in Crash With Cruiser

Jeffrey Price died in a crash involving a police cruiser in May 2018

The mother of a man who died in a crash involving a D.C. police cruiser says an officer unlawfully searched her backyard a week after the fatal collision.

Jeffery Price, 22, was driving a dirt bike at a high rate of speed down the wrong side of Division Avenue NE on the afternoon of May 4, 2018, when he collided with the cruiser, police said.

Price was thrown from the bike and later died at a hospital.

On Monday, the American Civil Liberties Union filed a lawsuit against Metropolitan Police Department Officer Joseph Gupton for an "unconstitutional, warrantless search" of Price's mother's property, the organization said in a release.

A week after the crash, Denise Price, was at her home in D.C.'s Deanwood neighborhood discussing funeral arrangements for her son with friends and family when two police cruisers pulled up and parked nearby, according to the ACLU.

"Y'all got a warrant to go on someone's private property?" a man asks the officer during video captured of the search.

Denise Price is heard asking, "Sir, sir, can you leave my property please?"

"Very intimidating. I was very shaken up by their actions, them being totally disrespectful, not communicating at all," Price told News4 Monday.

The lawsuit claims police trespassed on Price’s property, violated her civil rights and recovered nothing in the search.

"It’s that sort of repeated intrusion into people's space and to people's privacy and to people's homes and to people's lives that creates a sense of disrespect and discomfort among residents of the District, particularly residents of color," Michael Perloff with the ACLU said.

The ACLU claims Police Chief Peter Newsham defended the search as an attempt to find a gun, but several months later, the executive director of MPD’s Professional Development Bureau gave a different justification, saying that Officer Gupton was searching for a suspect.

The ACLU said the U.S. Attorney’s Office is investigating the crash.

“What MPD has not offered is any explanation as to why Officer Gupton believed he would find either contraband or a suspect in Ms. Price’s yard,” added Perloff. “In fact, he found neither. Video from the incident shows Officer Gupton and his partner searching several yards, suggesting that they had no actual knowledge of where the gun or suspect was, but believed themselves entitled to conduct warrantless intrusions onto private property anyway. That's not the law.”

A spokesperson for the Metropolitan Police Department told News4 the department has not yet seen the lawsuit and could not comment. 

The officers involved in the search were disciplined, but police did not say what the discipline was. Officer Gupton was reassigned out of the department's gun recovery unit, the spokesperson said.

The DC Police Union said in a statement the lawsuit is "without merit and we look forward to vigorously defending Officer Gupton against the ACLU's baseless claims. The DC Police Union supports Officer Gupton, a highly decorated 6-year member of our department."

Price said she hopes the lawsuit leads to change.

"The whole police force should be reformed trained more on how to approach people in the community with respect," Price said.

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