Man’s lawsuit over Hamilton County traffic stop can proceed, appeals court rules

Staff file photo / The logo of the Hamilton County Sheriff's Office is shown on the side of a process server's car in downtown Chattanooga.
Staff file photo / The logo of the Hamilton County Sheriff's Office is shown on the side of a process server's car in downtown Chattanooga.

A man with a genetic disorder who was pulled over on April 17, 2019, by two Hamilton County sheriff's deputies and treated like a drug suspect can proceed with his lawsuit against the county, a federal appeals court has ruled.

William Klaver, who was pulled over for a tinted-window violation, argues his constitutional right against unreasonable searches and seizures was violated. Attorneys for Deputy Tyler McRae and former Deputy Daniel Wilkey sought to have the case dismissed. When U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Tennessee denied their motion, the case was appealed to the 6th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, which affirmed the lower court ruling Thursday.

"We agree with the district court that the deputies violated clearly established Fourth Amendment law," the 6th Circuit judges wrote.

Klaver is representing himself and does not specify the damages he is seeking in his lawsuit. But on his YouTube page, where he posts videos of his interactions with law enforcement, he said he is asking for $300 million.

Klaver, who has muscular dystrophy and served in the Marine Corps was pulled over shortly after 8 p.m. while traveling south into Chattanooga by Wilkey and McRae because the tint on his windows was "way too dark," according to the judges' opinion.

Muscular dystrophy is a genetic disorder characterized by progressive muscle degeneration and weakness, according to the Duchenne Muscular Dystrophy Association website. Muscle weakness is the primary sign of the disorder, along with enlargement of the calves, a waddling gait and lumbar lordosis or an inward curve of the spine, according to the website.

As Klaver exited the vehicle, Wilkey repeatedly commented on his "shaking" during the traffic stop, which lasted about 40 minutes, according to dashcam footage submitted to the court, as well as video footage from Klaver's cellphone.

Both Wilkey and McRae claimed Klaver's shaking was suspicious and asked, on several occasions, if Klaver was under the influence of any medication or illegal substance, to which Klaver said "no" repeatedly.

Wilkey also asked multiple times to search Klaver's vehicle for any illegal substances, which Klaver refused each time. Wilkey and McRae then called for a police dog to try to detect drugs, using Klaver's shaking and tinted windows as a reason to suspect he was hiding something, the opinion stated.

"Wilkey filled out paperwork for the traffic ticket over the next several minutes, opining to McRae that the van's windows were tinted so dark that you 'can't see anything,' not even the driver, and that Klaver had 'done that for a reason,'" the 6th Circuit opinion stated, pointing out that Wilkey was delaying the citation process.

"At 8:40 p.m., McRae told Wilkey (and an incredulous Klaver) that the dog had alerted to drugs in the van," the opinion goes on. "McRae and Wilkey searched the van for five minutes, finding nothing. Wilkey asked Klaver a final time whether he had drugs; Klaver told him again that he did not."

"As Klaver signed the citation, he noted: 'In case you were wondering, I have muscular dystrophy,' to which Wilkey is heard replying with 'that's all you had to say,'" according to the opinion.

The 6th Circuit said several key matters of the case should be decided by a jury, such as whether the traffic stop was unduly extended considering the task at hand -- to address the tinted window matter and a tag issue.

In a separate case, Wilkey faces 44 criminal charges involving other traffic stops, including six counts of sexual battery, two counts of rape, nine counts of official oppression, extortion, stalking, assault and others. He has pleaded not guilty. Wilkey is due to appear Feb. 2 before Hamilton County Criminal Court Judge Barry Steelman on the criminal charges.

McRae was recently seen in a short video clip forcibly arresting East Ridge High School student Tauris Sledge in September.

After the video went viral, students and school staff walked out in protest and demanded a new school resource deputy.

McRae, who had been working as a school resource deputy since the start of the school year, according to the Hamilton County Sheriff's Office, requested a transfer back to patrol, which was granted by Sheriff Austin Garrett.

Contact La Shawn Pagán at lpagan@timesfreepress.com or 423-757-6476. Follow her on Twitter @LaShawnPagan.


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