(CNN)The Louisville Metro Police Department in Kentucky is facing at least three lawsuits alleging that police used the pretext of a traffic stop to pull over African American drivers and conduct "racially biased" unconstitutional searches and seizures, according to the suits.
Louisville Police Department accused of 'racially biased' traffic stops in at least 3 lawsuits
The traffic stops were part of a department program intended to reduce violent crime but resulted in police officers targeting African Americans in specific neighborhoods, according to two of the suits.
The lawsuits say that police Chief Steve Conrad does not have policies or training in place to protect people of color from discriminatory actions by his officers.
"Louisville has a crisis right now, and I don't think it's the officers' fault," said Sam Aguiar, an attorney representing the plaintiffs in two of the cases, who pointed to understaffing, overwork and high turnover in the department. "I think it comes from up top."
The Louisville Police Department told CNN it does not comment on pending litigation and did not respond when asked for copies of police reports, body cameras and other footage from the incidents. The police union representing the department, River City FOP, did not immediately respond to CNN's request for comment.
In August 2018, an African-American family returning from church was pulled over by police, according to court documents.
Anthony Parker was driving his fiancée Demetria Firman's vehicle when the car was boxed in by multiple police vehicles, the suit says. Parker's then 9-year-old son was in the backseat. Police said they pulled the family over because Parker failed to use his left turn signal, but body cameras worn by police showed he did, according to court documents.
According to the lawsuit, Officer Kevin Crawford twice asked Parker if there were any drugs or weapons in the car. At one point, Crawford allegedly reaches into the vehicle and opens the door with the inside door handle.
Crawford then removes Parker's phone from his lap before he removes Parker from the vehicle and frisks him, according to the lawsuit.
While this is happening, Firman is told to exit her vehicle by Officer Josh Doerr, who frisks her. According to the lawsuit, she asks him if something is wrong and he responds, "This is how we get conduct (sic) all our stops. It's a type of unit that works a little bit different than a traditional one."
Crawford removes Parker's son from the car before officers begin searching the vehicle. Firman's car and purse were "torn apart without consent," the suit said. Police found nothing.
The lawsuit alleges Parker and Firman's Fourth and 14th Amendment rights were violated by the chief and the head of the Ninth Mobile Division, which pulled the family over.
The suit says that the chief is responsible for the policies and customs of the department -- like the "People, Places and Narcotics" initiative, the "Violent Crimes" initiative and the "Traffic Stop" policy -- that led to the stop. But Aguiar said everyone involved should be held accountable.
"It's blatant injustice. Step one is getting some sort of reform, which has taken place, but step two is actually getting justice for these individuals and holding these officers, the ninth mobile division especially, accountable," Aguair said, adding that the department's new traffic stop policy went into effect in August 2019.
Those changes, announced by Conrad in a May YouTube