The American Civil Liberties Union has brought a lawsuit against a Vermont police officer who they claim illegally detained a man, towed his car and then charged him a tow fee even after they found no crime was committed.

Vermont State Police Trooper Lewis Hatch pulled over Gregory Zullo on March 6 because he had snow partially obscuring his license plate, which is not a violation in the wintery state. During the traffic stop, Zullo consented to a pat down and even took off his boots to allow Hatch to look inside, but refused to allowed the officer to search his vehicle, the Burlington Free Press reported.

Hatch said he could smell marijuana in the car and said he could see eye drops in the center console. Hatch decided to tow the car away so that he could search it. Zullo asked for a ride home, but was told that it was not Hatch's problem. He was not allowed to retrieve his cell phone or wallet. Zullo was then forced to walk eight miles to his home in freezing temperatures, according to the Times-Argus.

Hatch stated on his search warrant application that the search was needed because Zullo had prior drug charges, though Zullo had never been charged with any drug crimes.

Police found a grinder and pipe with residue. A 2013 Vermont law decriminalized possession of marijuana under one ounce. While he was never charged with a crime, he was billed $150 for tow fees. When Zullo questioned the charge, Hatch blamed the charge on Zullo for exercising his rights.


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