A man who got a $75 ticket from a Virginia state trooper in 2012 is now facing a $1.35 million lawsuit, after he posted a video of the encounter on YouTube and accused the officer of molesting him.
Nathan Cox of Mechanicsville, VA, who styles himself as a “police watchdog”, was driving on Interstate 295 just after 3 pm on May 26, 2012, Memorial Day weekend, when Officer Melanie McKenney of the Virginia State Police pulled him over for missing his front license plate.
What followed, including Cox’s sharing of the incident on his blog Virginia Cop Block — led to a $1.35 million lawsuit against him. (Scroll down for the video.)
1. Virginia State Trooper Melanie McKenney, right, is suing Nathan Cox, left, for $1.35 million after he posted a video of a heated encounter with the officer on YouTube and accused her of molesting him.
The traffic stop was contentious from the very beginning, with Officer McKenney ordering Cox, a 33-year-old Iraq War veteran who has a concealed weapons permit, from his vehicle, while he started recording the incident on his cellphone. The officer told Fox News:
It took him almost a mile before his vehicle pulled over and, of course, we’re always looking for things that may be unusual because you never know what you’re going to get during a traffic stop.
I’m approaching, looking in the windows, and he’s got his back slightly towards me and he’s holding an object. For my safety, I felt he needed to step out of the vehicle.
The object in question was Cox’s phone, with which he was legally recording the incident. After he stepped out of the car, McKenney ordered Cox to put the phone down on the car instead of holding it over her head, fearing that he might use it as a weapon.
Cox also had an expired inspection sticker and ended up getting two tickets: one for the inspection, which was later dismissed in court, and the other — for $75 — for his failure to display his front license plate.
Cox did not like the treatment he received and believes that his constitutional rights were violated.
2. Cox filmed the incident with his phone.
Cox later obtained, through the Freedom of Information Act, the 28-minute dash cam video as well as the radio transmissions and text messages sent between McKenney and her colleagues and posted everything on his blog.
After the confrontation, McKenney is heard in one radio transmission telling another officer:
I don’t want myself on any YouTube or whatever.
When her colleague informs McKenney about Cox’s blog, she is heard defending her orders to have Cox step outside his car. She says:
It took him a long time to pull over so I just wanted him to get out of the car. I don’t want to search his car — I don’t want anything like that but I don’t — if he’s got a gun…
The dash cam video of the confrontation has been viewed more than 600,000 after it was shared on YouTube.
3. Cox later obtained, through the Freedom of Information Act, this 28-minute dash cam video from the officer’s trooper.
McKenney filed her first lawsuit over the incident in May 2013 in small claims court for $5,000. In March 2014, she re-filed it in circuit court, but this time for $1.35 million — an amount set by her attorney, D. Hayden Fisher.
Well-known constitutional rights attorney Thomas H. Roberts, who is representing Cox, as he has in previous cases, said his client’s actions are protected under the First Amendment. He argues that McKenney’s lawsuit is problematic, because a number of the claims are barred by the statute of limitations.
For his part, McKenney’s lawyer claims that alleged false statements made by Cox on his blog constitute defamation — such as the accusation that McKenney “molested” him during the traffic stop. Fisher added that his client “could have arrested him for causing problems”.
Cox has defended his molestation accusation, which he made in a video he posted on his blog, though he clarified that he felt he was molested, but “not sexually”.
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