J. Justin Wilson
J. Justin Wilson · June 6, 2023

Press Conference

When:  June 6th, 2023 at 11:00am CDT
Where: Zoom Meeting (https://ij-org.zoom.us/j/96364063263)
·      Alek Schott, Houston-based Motorist and Plaintiff
·      Christie Hebert, Attorney, Institute for Justice
·      Josh Windham, Attorney and Elfie Gallun Fellow, Institute for Justice
What: A brief press conference including a review of bodycam footage

SAN ANTONIO—Today, Houston resident Alek Schott partnered with the Institute for Justice (IJ) to announce a federal lawsuit against Bexar County deputies for illegally stopping him for a traffic violation that he didn’t commit, and then using the stop to detain him and search his truck in violation of his Fourth Amendment rights.

The incident occurred the morning of March 16, 2022, when Alek was driving home from a work trip. While traveling on I-35 just south of San Antonio, he was pulled over by a Bexar County deputy for supposedly drifting out of his lane. But footage from Alek’s dashcam shows that he was squarely within his lane the entire time. The deputy falsely accused Alek of a traffic violation as an excuse to pull him over. From there, things only got worse. 

Rather than the usual “license and registration,” the deputy asked Alek to get out of his truck and sit in the deputy’s police cruiser. At that point, what started as a traffic stop turned into an interrogation. The deputy asked Alek about his identity, trip, work, family, and whether he had anything illegal or large amounts of cash in his truck. Despite Alek’s calm explanation that he was on a run-of-the-mill work trip, the deputy declared that Alek’s story didn’t add up and that he was going to call a drug dog to the scene.

“Watching the body camera footage, it is clear that the deputy decided he wanted to search the truck before he even pulled Alek over,” said Joshua Windham, an attorney and Elfie Gallun Fellow at the Institute for Justice, which represents Alek. “Based on that goal, he treated Alek’s calm, direct, and truthful answers as somehow suspicious in an effort to gain up a supposedly-legitimate reason to search the truck. That’s not how the Fourth Amendment works. Police cannot decide to search-first and justify-later.” 

After waiting 20 minutes for the dog to arrive, a second officer took the dog around Alek’s truck and then announced that the dog had “alerted,” meaning that the dog supposedly detected the presence of drugs in Alek’s truck. But the handler’s bodycam footage reveals that he gestured upward with one hand and said something a split second before the dog barked—likely signaling the dog to “alert” and create a legal justification to search the truck. After the alert, the officers began tearing apart Alek’s truck. 

Bodycam footage reveals the deputies emptying every bag and pulling apart every part of the truck. The only thing they found were some food wrappers, clothes, work gear, and car seats—all items consistent with what Alek had told them moments before. What the deputies didn’t find was drugs or any other evidence of a crime. The deputy who pulled Alek over told him “nine times out of ten, this is what happens”—they search cars and find nothing. More than an hour later, Alek was free to go.

“I knew something was wrong from the very start,” said Alek. “Not only had I not drifted between lanes, but every answer I gave the deputy only seemed to make matters worse. I was on a totally normal work trip. Nothing I said or did was suspicious, but that didn’t seem to matter. At the end of the day, the officers left me standing on the side of the road with a written warning for something I didn’t do, and a truck that was completely torn apart. How is that legal?” 

What Alek experienced isn’t just bad policing—it’s unconstitutional. 

“The Fourth Amendment prohibits the police from pulling you over without a good reason,” said IJ Attorney Christie Hebert. “If police want to pull you over, interrogate you, and search your car, they need to have a factual basis to suspect you of a crime. The deputy here didn’t have one.”

In 2022 alone, Texans were stopped 7,191,167 times. Of those, the vast majority—6,780,292—were for supposed traffic violations. And 379,680 of those stops resulted in searches, but contraband was discovered substantially less than half of the time. With such a high volume of police officers stopping Texans, searching vehicles, but finding nothing, it’s crucial that motorists have a way to enforce the Fourth Amendment after they are pulled over.

Alek’s lawsuit seeks to stop that kind of unconstitutional behavior and hold the Bexar County deputies accountable for violating his Fourth Amendment right to be free from unreasonable searches and seizures. “If I didn’t stand up for my rights, then the police could continue to interrogate drivers and search their cars without any justification and get away with it,” Alek said. 

The Institute for Justice is a non-profit public interest law firm that protects property rights nationwide. This case is part of IJ’s Project on the Fourth Amendment, which strives to protect the right to be secure from unreasonable searches and seizures.