Family files $12.5M excessive force lawsuit over teen’s seatbelt arrest

The family of college freshman Montre’ Merritt is suing the Waycross Police Department for $12.5 million following an incident they describe as an example of “excessive force.”

Earlier this year, when Merritt was still a high school senior, he was stopped by a police officer as he was pulling into the driveway of his home.

Officer Cory Gay had allegedly been following Merritt for several blocks before he ultimately turned on his police lights. Gay exited his vehicle, then placed a gun to Merritt’s head. He ordered him to the ground and handcuffed him for an alleged “seat belt violation.”

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Following the incident, Merritt and his family filed a complaint alleging “excessive force.” Merritt told reporters last week he “felt like Trayvon Martin” the night of his arrest.

Gay was suspended five days without pay and ordered to take a “Judgmental Use of Force Training” class, according to a WJXT-TV report.

In the lawsuit, the family alleges that the “false arrest” was based on racially profiling the teen and that Gay’s previous punishment is not enough.

Merritt’s attorney Reginald Greene issued a statement, according to The Brunswick News’ Michael Hall:

We have zero tolerance for this kind of activity by the police […] Levar Jones was shot in South Carolina for a seat belt violation. Mike Jones was killed and Eric Garner was choked to death. We can’t allow this to continue to happen, and we will have zero tolerance.

The Waycross Police Department is reportedly in contact with attorneys to review the suit’s claims.