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Hobbs man sues, says police framed him in drug case

Copyright © 2018 Albuquerque Journal

A Hobbs man says he was framed by Hobbs police on a regional drug task force and then harassed after he was found not guilty in the fabricated case, according to a federal suit filed in late March.

Plaintiff Kenneth Johnson’s claims come 14 years after the father of his longtime girlfriend successfully sued the same department, including the same primary police officer.

In that suit, Jimmie Marshall won $580,000 after an eight-member jury found that two Hobbs police officers, Rodney Porter and former Sgt. Walter Roye, conducted an illegal search of Marshall, a black man.

In the Marshall lawsuit, agent Porter admitted on the stand that he was fired from a Texas police department before moving to Hobbs for mishandling drug evidence in cases involving black and Hispanic defendants, according to news reports at the time.

Johnson’s suit says Porter planted drugs in his house during an unjustified search.

Johnson, who is black, was arrested and charged with trafficking drugs. He lost his job while being held in jail on those charges, the lawsuit says.

He was acquitted by a jury in the case.

Months later, Johnson says he and a friend were subjected to a traffic stop by Porter without justification and held while Porter ordered a search of the car. No charges were filed.

Johnson’s attorney, Richard Rosenstock, said the traffic stop shows a pattern of harassment of Johnson by an officer who has a record of misconduct.

The suit says the actions were “permeated by racial animus.”

In Marshall’s lawsuit, the officers had obtained a blood sample from him without his permission and without a warrant following a Dec. 26, 1996, traffic stop. Marshall sued in 2004.

His suit came on the tails of an American Civil Liberties Union lawsuit on behalf of Hobbs’ black residents showing blacks were subjected to excessive force, warrantless searches and false charges.

The ACLU settlement required the Hobbs Police Department to improve internal reporting procedures, the investigation of officer misconduct, training and disciplinary procedures. In addition, Hobbs police agreed to collect racial data on arrests, searches, field stops for questioning, and incidents in which police used force on civilians.

Last year, two black officers and a white officer sued the department and city of Hobbs over what they say were racially motivated policing strategies targeting non-white communities and retaliation once they spoke up about the policies.

That lawsuit is headed to trial.

Hobbs police did not respond to request for comment.

Porter recently retired from the department.

Johnson’s lawsuit, filed in federal court in Las Cruces, seeks punitive and compensatory damages against specific officers and several law enforcement agencies.