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Ex-Jazz man files suit against police in Salt Lake

Incident last year violated his rights, he says

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Isaac Austin, a former Utah Jazz player, has sued the Salt Lake Police Department, saying he and Melvin Brown, his personal chef, were pulled over and forced to the ground at gunpoint by 18 to 20 officers because they are black.

Austin filed the suit in U.S. District Court on Thursday.

"We have not been notified of any lawsuit, and so we would not have any comment," Salt Lake Police Capt. Scott Anderson said.

The lawsuit says that Austin and Brown's constitutional rights were violated by an unlawful search and seizure, excessive force and denial of equal protection under the law.

The suit says that on Sept. 24, 2000, the two men were driving home from a nightclub in Austin's vehicle when they noticed they were being followed by a police cruiser.

Austin was pulled over, forcibly yanked from the car at gunpoint and thrown to the ground, the suit said.

Both men were handcuffed, kept on the ground and were surrounded by approximately 18 police officers, according to the suit. Several officers "appeared extremely agitated and were pointing their guns at Mr. Austin and Mr. Brown in a threatening and menacing manner," the suit said.

One police officer asked Austin if he owned a gun and he said no; Austin was asked what was in his car and he answered only his golf clubs; and police asked to search his car, which he agreed to, the suit said.

After the vehicle had been searched, police removed the handcuffs and told the men they were free to leave, the suit said.

At no time during the 20-minute situation were the pair told why they were being detained, nor were they asked to identify themselves, the suit said. However, several police officers seemed to recognize Austin and referred to him by name, according to the lawsuit.

Austin and Brown maintain in the suit that they are law-abiding citizens with no criminal records, who gave police no reason to suspect any criminal wrongdoing. The two men are asking for unspecified damages.

E-MAIL: lindat@desnews.com