A federal judge has ruled a woman’s claims can proceed against a Gwinnett County police officer accused of planting “suspected” cocaine on her to show off on an episode of “COPS.”
Judge Leigh Martin May dismissed large portions of Elizabeth Leigh Butler’s suit, but declined in the Friday order to dismiss several claims alleging misconduct by Senior Officer Paul Tremblay during the taping in 2013. Martin May found that Butler had sufficiently alleged that Tremblay didn’t have probable cause to arrest her for loitering and plausibly could have planted fake cocaine, leading to a “warrantless arrest.”
With the split ruling, both Gwinnett County officials and Butler’s attorney saw victories for themselves.
Butler’s attorney, John R. Burdges of Buford, said: “I have no idea why this guy is still on the force.”
In an emailed statement Tuesday, Joe Sorenson, Gwinnett County communications director, reminded that the case is still in an “early stage of litigation before any actual evidence has been considered.”
The police department confirmed Tuesday that Tremblay is still on the force, assigned to the K9 unit. The agency has declined to comment on the case, per policy not to speak on pending litigation.
The case stems from Butler’s arrest on Aug. 22, 2013, outside Lawrenceville’s First United Methodist Church.
She and a man were in a van in the parking lot, apparently talking, after midnight.
Tremblay, who was being followed by a crew in town from California to film Gwinnett officers, approached and accused them of loitering.
The charge was later dropped, as was the possession of cocaine charge after a Georgia Bureau of Investigation test found “no controlled substances” in the material, which Tremblay had said he found in Butler’s vehicle.
Butler believes Tremblay knew what he was doing.
He performed two tests on the substance. The first test he conducted on the scene was reportedly negative for illegal drugs. According to Butler’s attorney, the unedited version of the “COPS” footage shows the officer saying he was going to try another test and then “give them the bad news,” as if he knew his next test would be positive.
County attorneys successfully argued that the chief of police and the department hadn’t failed Tremblay in training. They also maintained that any reasonable officer would’ve had the same suspicions about Butler being in the parking lot so late at night.