Lawsuits allege Clearwater police racially profiled Black man in wrongful arrest

The Pinellas-Pasco State Attorney said his office was “very uncomfortable” with officers’ identification of the man who was arrested
Jacques LaPread, 50, of Safety Harbor, has filed two racial profiling lawsuits against the Clearwater Police Department.
Jacques LaPread, 50, of Safety Harbor, has filed two racial profiling lawsuits against the Clearwater Police Department. [ DOUGLAS R. CLIFFORD | Times ]
Published Sept. 11

Clearwater police officers racially profiled a Black man they wrongfully arrested in a burglary case, two lawsuits filed in federal court in Tampa say.

Clearwater officers arrested Jacques LaPread on June 20, 2019 on burglary and credit card fraud charges. Five months later, after concluding its own investigation, the Pinellas-Pasco State Attorney’s Office decided not to pursue charges out of concerns about the identification of the suspect.

“We were very uncomfortable with the identification of this individual that had been arrested,” Pinellas-Pasco State Attorney Bruce Bartlett told the Tampa Bay Times recently.

Clearwater Police spokesperson Rob Shaw would not answer questions about whether someone else was arrested in the case, citing active litigation.

For LaPread, the arrest put his life on hold — he was in the process of applying for a promotion at his cybersecurity job, but the arrest made him ineligible at the time, according to the lawsuits.

“I’m pretty much starting from scratch again, all because of this,” LaPread said in a phone interview with the Times.

Three officers — Michael Buis, Kyle Bingham and Henry Giles — were given reprimands as a result of an internal investigation by the police department, according to Shaw. Bingham and Giles still work for the agency. Buis has since left the department, but his departure was not a result of the disciplinary case, Shaw said. It is unclear if Buis still works in law enforcement.

Attempts to reach the three officers at phone numbers listed in public records were unsuccessful. The police agency does not comment on pending litigation, Shaw said.

LaPread filed a lawsuit in March against then-Clearwater Police Chief Dan Slaughter in his capacity in that role after attempts to resolve the matter outside of court were unsuccessful, his attorneys said. The lawsuit was initially filed in Pinellas-Pasco circuit civil court, but was transferred to federal court in April.

LaPread also filed a lawsuit in June against the Clearwater Police Department and the three officers in Florida’s Middle District federal court.

According to the lawsuits, Clearwater police began their investigation on June 20, 2019 after a woman reported that someone had burglarized her Jeep, stealing a wristlet that contained credit cards, gift cards, her military ID and driver’s license.

One of the credit cards was used at the Speedway Gas Station at 1625 McMullen Booth Road in Clearwater to buy cigarettes, the lawsuit says. A stolen credit card was also used to buy more than $200 in goods from the Walgreens at 1701 McMullen Booth Road in Safety Harbor.

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That same day, LaPread went to the same Speedway, where he withdrew $20 from an ATM and used it to make a purchase, the lawsuit states. While there, he held the door open for Clearwater police officers who were investigating, the lawsuit says.

One of the officers thought LaPread “looked suspicious,” the lawsuit says, and wrote down LaPread’s license plate number. Officers ran his license plate and arrested him later that evening, the lawsuit says.

There were several differences between LaPread and the suspect, another Black man seen on Speedway surveillance footage, the lawsuit alleges. The suspect had a beard and sideburns and was wearing long gray pants and a white long-sleeved shirt, the lawsuit says. LaPread was wearing a white T-shirt and blue cargo pants, the lawsuit said, and LaPread told the Times he did not have a beard. His booking photo at the jail shows him with a goatee, but no other facial hair.

After his arrest, LaPread had to pay $500 to recover his car, which was seized by police, he said. Officers also searched his car, strewing confidential papers from his job throughout the vehicle, he said.

“Defendants would not have harassed, detained, arrested, used force on, and searched Plaintiff if he were white,” the lawsuit against the officers states.

Both lawsuits are currently pending in federal court.

The city has filed a motion to dismiss the first lawsuit against Slaughter, arguing that it is a “shotgun pleading” that fails to state a claim and that the chief has sovereign immunity. The motion points to technical errors in the lawsuit, arguing, for example, that the sheriff is the chief law enforcement official in Pinellas County, not Slaughter, and that the lawsuit was incorrect for referring to him as such.

“Getting the wording right for all of that — because each case is different — can sometimes take some time,” said Lisha Bowen, one of LaPread’s attorneys. “So the response to a lawsuit against a governmental agency, whether it be state or federal, is always a motion to dismiss.”

For his part, LaPread said he wants to hold the police agency accountable and make sure a similar situation doesn’t happen to anyone else.

“Someone has to stand up, and I have to stand up for myself first,” he said.