Metro Louisville

A federal judge ruled that a Louisville Metro Police Department officer violated the constitutional rights of a Black teenager in 2018 during a traffic stop.

District Court Judge Greg Stivers ruled Thursday that LMPD officer Kevin Crawford subjected Tae-Ahn Lea to an unreasonable search when he pulled Lea out of his vehicle and patted him down.

Crawford and another officer, Gabriel Hellard, pulled Lea over on Aug. 9, 2018, for allegedly making a wide turn. Police body camera footage shows that after Lea presented his driver’s license and insurance card, Crawford pulled him from the car, and patted him down, over Lea’s objections.

The search continued for at least 30 minutes, during which time Hellard placed Lea in handcuffs. They brought in a K-9 officer, Jeffrey McCauley, and his dog to search the car and Lea, and  found no illegal drugs, guns or contraband. Prosecutors later dismissed Lea’s alleged traffic violation.

Crawford justified the search by saying that Lea seemed “nervous” and had a small souvenir baseball bat.

“The mere possession of a souvenir bat weighing six ounces, however, does not objectively support a reasonable belief that Lea was armed any more than a screwdriver, a sharpened pencil, or a pair of scissors, had those objects been present inside the car,” Stivers wrote in his decision.

Further, Stivers wrote, “It is well established that nervousness alone is not a sufficient basis on which to articulate reasonable suspicion.”

Stivers ruled that Lea’s claims for damages against Crawford may proceed.

“Great ruling and a very well reasoned opinion today in federal court for our client, Tae Ahn Lea,” Lea’s attorney Sam Aguiar wrote on Facebook. “This one feels good.”

Stivers, however, dismissed claims brought against officers Hellard and McCauley, accepting their defense that they were performing the duties required of them under Crawford’s authority.

He also dismissed claims Lea brought against higher-ups in the department. Lea argued that then-Police Chief Steven Conrad and Division Major William Hibbs violated Lea’s rights by failing to appropriately train and supervise their officers.

The judge ruled there was not enough evidence to directly link LMPD leaders’ decisions to the violation of Lea’s rights.

Crawford is no longer employed by LMPD. News outlets reported he resigned from the force and was hired in 2019 by the Jeffersonville, Ind. police department.

Crawford could not be immediately reached for comment.

An LMPD spokesperson confirmed Hellard and McCauley still work for the department, but had no comment on the ruling.

This story may be updated.

Jess Clark is WFPL's Education and Learning Reporter.