Federal trial begins over whether cops had cause to search woman’s car, driver claims race was a factor

Posted at 5:09 PM, Mar 25, 2015
and last updated 2015-03-25 23:52:34-04

SALT LAKE CITY -- Sherida Felders appeared to shake as she sat on the witness stand and recalled the traffic stop on I-15 outside Cedar City.

"He asked me to get out of the car," she testified Wednesday. "He wanted to explain the citation to me."

Felders admitted to speeding, but said things quickly escalated to drug dogs being called and her car being searched for signs of narcotics.

"They were going through all our stuff and tossing it, destroying everything," she testified. "It was embarrassing."

Felders, Elijahjuan Madyun and Delarryon Hansend are suing Utah Highway Patrol Trooper Brian Bairett and Iron County Sheriff's Deputy Jeff Malcom over the 2008 traffic stop, accusing them of not having probable cause to search the car. In an interview with FOX 13 last year, Felders said she believed their race played a role in the traffic stop.

However, the judge has limited the case to whether the police officers had probable cause to search the car. Last year, the 10th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Denver ruled the officers did not have cause, and allowed the civil lawsuit to proceed to trial in Salt Lake City.

A mostly-white jury of nine men and three women heard Felders, Madyun and Hansend all testify Wednesday against the officers. The three were traveling from the San Diego area to Colorado to visit family for Thanksgiving when they were stopped outside Cedar City and detained for several hours.

They claimed the officers rifled through their luggage and removed compartments in the car while allowing a drug dog to go through the car. When nothing was found, Felders said, the officers just shoved the items back in the car and left -- with no apology or explanation.

"I felt like they were bullies with badges," she told the jury.

Madyun said Felders was in tears as officers went through her underwear.

"It was my first time in Utah and for that to be the experience... it doesn't make me ever want to come back," he told the jury.

Hansend said he had never had trouble with police before and the experience has changed how he views them.

"I do have a distrust for them now," he testified.

But lawyers for Bairett and Malcom insist there was probable cause to search the car for drugs, and what gave them that probable cause was Malcom's K-9 "Duke." In cross-examination, they insisted that the dog "alerted" to the odor of narcotics, which is the legal standard that can give them cause to search a vehicle.

Felders' lawyer, Robert Sykes, insists the drug dog did not alert -- meaning the officers had no cause to do the search.

Malcom's lawyer, Frank Mylar, asked Iron County Sheriff's Deputy Wade Lee if he had ever seen a drug dog alert and no drugs ever be found.

"Yes," Lee told the jury.

Lawyers for the trooper and the deputy also denied causing any damage to Felders' car, insisting that nothing was broken. Lee testified that he helped put some of the clothing back in the luggage as the search wrapped up.

Testimony in the case is expected to finish on Thursday. The jury could begin deliberations by Friday morning to decide if the officers are liable.