Watchdog group questions Alexandria Police training; lawsuit in progress

By: - March 4, 2023 6:00 am
Mario Rosales holds the citation he was issued June 12, 2022, when two Alexandria Police Department officers pulled him over for an alleged traffic violation.

Mario Rosales holds the citation he was issued June 12, 2022, when two Alexandria Police Department officers pulled him over for an alleged traffic violation. Dashboard video from the police SUV shows Morales did not commit an offense. He and his girlfriend are suing the city and police department after being detained and questioned for 20 minutes. (Photo courtesy Institute for Justice)

A national legal watchdog group is criticizing the Alexandria Police Department for its training methods, citing “disregard for the Constitution” based on dashboard- and body-camera footage from a June 2022 traffic stop. Multiple citations issued to the motorist who was pulled over were later dismissed by the city.

The Institute of Justice is representing the motorist and his passenger in a federal lawsuit against the city of Alexandria, the two police officers and Chief Ronney Howard for what they say was an unconstitutional stop and interrogation. 

Police video shows driver Mario Rosales of Roswell, New Mexico, and his girlfriend, Gracie Lasyone of Dry Prong, being pulled in Rosales’ red Ford Mustang with a New Mexico license plate. 

“Instead of apologizing and vowing reform, Alexandria defended its officers,” Institute for Justice attorney Marie Miller said in a statement Thursday. “The city also took steps to shield them with qualified immunity, a judge-made doctrine that protects government employees from civil liability when they violate the Constitution.”

The city of Alexandria and its police department did not respond to a request for comment on Miller’s statement.

In their response to the lawsuit filed with the federal court, attorneys for the city of Alexandria defended the two police officers, Jim Lewis and Samuel Terrell, calling their actions “reasonably objective.” The city maintains Lewis was not training Terrell during the stop, although Terrell had less than one year of experience at the time of the incident. 

When the two officers are alone in their police vehicle, Lewis is heard in the body-worn camera footage repeatedly offering guidance to the younger officer. Terrell also referenced having recently watched training videos on police stops. 

Terrell told Morales he was pulled over for failing to signal a left turn at an intersection, but dashboard camera footage from the police cruiser clearly shows the Mustang’s signal light flashing before making the turn on a green light.

Miller said law enforcement tends to get the benefit of the doubt when traffic stops are questioned.  

“Before the police can stop someone, they need reasonable suspicion of wrongdoing. Courts will accept almost any excuse,” she said.


After Terrell frisked Rosales, Lewis directed him to empty his pockets. Rosales complied and Lewis then asked if he could search his pockets. Rosales asked if he could get his phone so his girlfriend could record their interaction. Lewis responded that he was recording their conversation, referencing his body camera. 

When Rosales replied that he knew of instances of police video footage being lost, Lewis promised him he would not lose his recording and did not allow Rosales to retrieve his phone.

“I don’t do phone calls on traffic stops,” Lewis later told Terrell when they were alone in the police vehicle. Terrell agreed, saying phone calls could lead to other people showing up at the scene. “Next thing you know you’ve got multiple people interfering with my investigation,” Lewis added.  

“(The) officers showed little interest in the phantom traffic violation,” Miller said. “They ordered Rosales and Lasyone to exit their vehicle, and then spent nearly 20 minutes interrogating them about unrelated matters. Most questions focused on drug activity and criminal history, although neither Rosales nor Lasyone do drugs, and both have clean records.”

Lewis later told Terrell in their police SUV that he saw ammunition in the Mustang’s open glove box. Rosales told police he had a firearm in his vehicle, and the officers required him and Lasyone to remain outside the car while they were being questioned. 

Lewis asked Rosales multiple times whether he used drugs or had a criminal background. The officer also informed Rosales he could refuse to answer any questions under his 5th Amendment right to avoid incrimination,  

“I’m starting to sense they don’t like the police,” Lewis said later when he was with Terrell in their SUV. “I don’t know why because we’re just friendly.”  

Rosales was issued citations for failure to signal and not updating his driver’s license and registration since coming to Louisiana for work in November 2021. Rosales told the officers that he had been unable to afford permanent housing and was living with Lasyone’s family.

Over his police radio, Terrell requested “32” and “70” checks on Rosales and Lasyone – code for checking if either has any warrants for their arrest, according to Alexandria police. A  few minutes later when the dispatcher indicated the checks revealed no warrants, Lewis is heard responding with a loud groan.

As Terrell handed the citation to Rosales, Lewis asked the driver if he’d had a better experience with the Alexandria Police than in previous encounters with law enforcement. 

“Not quite,” Rosales responded, “quite similar.” 

When Lewis asked if the officers could have done anything better, Rosales told him he didn’t want to answer and requested the badge numbers for both officers before departing. 

Federal court records show a jury trial in the lawsuit from Rosales and Lasyone has been set for Feb. 20, 2024, in the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Louisiana.


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Greg LaRose
Greg LaRose

Greg LaRose has covered news for more than 30 years in Louisiana. Before coming to the Louisiana Illuminator, he was the chief investigative reporter for WDSU-TV in New Orleans. He previously led the government and politics team for The Times-Picayune |, and was editor in chief at New Orleans CityBusiness. Greg's other career stops include Tiger Rag, South Baton Rouge Journal, the Covington News Banner, Louisiana Radio Network and multiple radio stations.