A lawsuit over a Winston-Salem police officer’s search of a car in 2012 has been settled for more than $8,000.
Anthony Cottrell, 41, filed a lawsuit Feb. 10 in Forsyth Superior Court against former Winston-Salem police officer Jordan M. Payne. It was the second time Cottrell had sued Payne over the traffic stop on May 28, 2012, after a previous lawsuit was dismissed.
Payne pulled Cottrell over on Trade Street because Cottrell’s headlights were off. The stop eventually turned into a search of Cottrell’s vehicle in which Payne seized a gun and illegal drugs.
Cottrell sought to have the evidence suppressed, but a Forsyth County judge denied Cottrell’s motion. Cottrell then pleaded guilty to possession of a firearm by a felon, possession of a Schedule II controlled substance and possession of up to 1/2 ounce of marijuana. He also pleaded guilty to being a habitual felon. He was sentenced to about six to eight years in prison.
But the N.C. Court of Appeals ruled on July 1, 2014, that Payne detained Cottrell far beyond the scope of the traffic stop without getting Cottrell’s valid consent and without a reasonable suspicion of a crime, among other reasons. The appeals court sent the case back to Forsyth Superior Court, where the motion to suppress the evidence was granted, Cottrell’s guilty pleas were thrown out and the charges were voluntarily dismissed.
Cottrell filed for a voluntary dismissal of the lawsuit with prejudice on Aug. 25, according to court documents.
In a phone interview Monday, Cottrell said he settled with the city of Winston-Salem for about $8,500.
“I did it in the best interest of my family,” he said.
Cottrell said his mother died in 2012. Shortly after he got out of prison in 2014, he found that he and his brother inherited their mother’s house and that the city had been fining his mother’s estate because of issues with the property, such as unmowed grass.
As part of the settlement, Cottrell said the city agreed to waive any fines associated with his mother’s house.
City Attorney Angela Carmon said in an email Tuesday that the settlement was reached for $8,420. Out of that, Cottrell received $5,000, Carmon said. The remaining $3,420 was used to pay an outstanding sanitation lien, Carmon said. She said the $5,000 is what the city had offered Cottrell to settle an earlier suit.
Cottrell had previously filed a lawsuit against then-Police Chief Barry Rountree, Payne and the city of Winston-Salem, seeking at least $100,000 in damages. According to court documents, Lori Sykes, an assistant city attorney, offered to settle the lawsuit for $5,000. Cottrell rejected that offer.
According to the appeals court ruling, Payne took Cottrell’s license and registration and found that they were valid and also saw there were no outstanding warrants. Payne reported he smelled a strong cologne-type fragrance that he said, based on his experience, was a cover scent to mask the odor of drugs.
Cottrell denied that was the case and refused to have his car searched, but Payne persisted, according to the lawsuit and the appellate court decision. Payne told Cottrell that he would get a police dog to sniff for drugs. Cottrell said he wanted to go home, but Payne insisted on the search. Finally, Cottrell agreed.
That’s when Payne seized a handgun and a plastic bag containing what was later determined to be cocaine in the car’s glove box. Cottrell admitted that he had a plastic bag with marijuana in his sock.
Cottrell filed a complaint with the Winston-Salem Police Department, which launched an internal investigation. Rountree sent Cottrell a letter on Nov. 16, 2015, detailing the results of the investigation. Rountree said that “evidence in this investigation revealed that Officer Payne violated a Winston-Salem Police Department Rule of Conduct.” Payne resigned Aug. 4, 2015, before any disciplinary action could be taken against him. He is now working as a police officer for the Laramie Police Department in Wyoming.
Carmon said in a court hearing that Payne violated police policy by holding onto Cottrell’s driver’s license longer than he should have.
Cottrell said he intends to keep fighting. He plans to sue Payne as an individual, not as an officer. But getting out of prison after the appellate court ruling was a win, he said.
“The true victory was my freedom,” he said.