Jessie Thornton, a 64-year-old retired firefighter living in Surprise, Ariz., was charged with driving under the influence (DUI) back in December even though breathalyzer and toxicology tests showed he was completely sober. Now, he and his lawyer have told ABC 15 it was a case of "DWB."
"It's driving while black," Thornton told the station. His attorney, Marc J. Victor, seconded the assertion.
On Monday, Thornton filed a notice of claim to sue the Surprise Police Department for $500,000 for emotional distress and violating his civil rights. In the notice, obtained by The Huffington Post, he asserts that racial profiling fueled his arrest in a four-year pattern of harassment by local police.
He had been stopped 10 previous times and ticketed on four occasions for violations he did not commit, the document says. But the December incident spurred him to action.
Thornton was pulled over for crossing a white lane marker. Officer J.J. Otterman, noting his bloodshot eyes, insisted he was drunk, the papers say. Thornton said he explained to the officer that his eyes were irritated because he had just been swimming at a local health club. He also warned the police before his field sobriety test that he did not move well because of hip and knee problems.
His blood alcohol content registered 0.000, and a department drug recognition expert concluded that Thornton showed no signs of impairment, according to the filing. Toxicology tests then came back negative (except for blood pressure medication that would not inhibit motor movements).
Thornton had his car impounded and his license suspended, and he was notified by the motor vehicles department that he had to take a class for drunken driving. The legal wrangling took months before the charges were finally dropped. His reputation has been permanently damaged because the arrest and charges are on his record, Thornton contends in the notice.
The Surprise Police Department did not immediately respond to HuffPost's request for comment.