FAYETTE COUNTY, Ind. (April 6, 2016) – Preaching Christ from the cruiser has one Indiana State Trooper facing a federal lawsuit, and this isn’t the first time. The ACLU filed that claim Tuesday on behalf of a Fayette County woman, Wendy Pyle, saying her constitutional rights were violated.
The traffic stop happened in January of this year. But Hamilton was sued in September of 2014 in a similar case, which was settled. Court papers indicate he was told then not to be witnessing on traffic stops.
The lawsuit alleges Trooper Brian Hamilton of the ISP Pendleton post pulled the woman over for speeding and gave her a warning. He then asked her what church she went to and if she was saved. Documents said Hamilton invited Pyle to his church and even gave directions.
The complaint alleges Pyle answered “yes” to both questions because she was uncomfortable and wanted to end the stop.
“When he’s engaged in the official acts of his job, especially when he’s a police officer, those kinds of stops are inherently coercive. That is not the time to be talking to people about their religion,” said Richard Waples, an Indianapolis civil rights attorney.
Waples isn’t associated with the case, but he said there’s a clear constitutional issue there, with the first and fourth amendments. He believes the existence of a prior lawsuit could open up Hamilton to punitive damages.
“There’s a time and a place for everything, and the officer has certainly overstepped his bounds on this one, if the facts in the complaint alleged are true,” he said.
According to the complaint, Pyle filed a formal complaint after the stop with Indiana State Police and was told she’d suffer no backlash. But someone who attends the trooper’s church later came up to her and told her the trooper had her put on a prayer list.
Opinions were mixed Wednesday night on whether the preaching patrolman was out of line.
“If he carried out his duty as a state trooper, first and foremost, and then wanted to witness to me, I still would not have been offended,” said Ana Garcia.
“I would be offended, more so, because it’s a state trooper, and that’s a governmental agency. But I wouldn’t be offended as to the content of the question,” said Brett Day.
Indiana State Police said they can’t comment on open litigation, but they do confirm that Trooper Hamilton was moved to a desk job on January 15th, after a complaint was filed against him. ISP can’t say directly whether that complaint is related to this case.
Efforts to reach Hamilton on Wednesday night for comment were unsuccessful.