Late one Saturday night in June, Marc Lamont Hill, a Columbia University professor, dropped off a childhood friend in Philadelphia when a police car pulled up. Officer Richard DeCoatsworth – hailed as a hero when he survived a gunshot blast to the face in 2007 – motioned for Hill to move his car. In a federal civil rights lawsuit, Hill says DeCoatsworth and a partner ater pulled Hill over and searched him and his car without a warrant, violating several constitutional rights. DeCoatsworth allegedly asked Hill whether he could afford his BMW and went through Hill’s checkbook, asking Hill about his doctorate from the University of Pennsylvania.
Hill was told he was being stopped for “illegal discharge of a passenger and blocking the street.” He was not charged. Hill cited the “city’s policies, procedures, customs, and practices of allowing its officers to make stops without reasonable suspicion, and to use unreasonable and excessive force, thereby violating the civil rights of those with whom they come into contact.” “It’s a constitutional violation of an American’s right to travel peacefully,” said Leonard Hill, Prof. Hill’s brother and attorney. “He was stopped illegally. He was frisked illegally. He was stripped of his dignity. To ask him how he could afford his car, to look at his checkbook, and to ask him to explain what’s a Ph.D. is just ridiculous.”