SALT LAKE CITY — A Taylorsville man says a Unified police officer wrongly accused him of making an illegal U-turn, shouted profanities at him and filed false criminal charges against him after a traffic stop two years ago.
Lopeti Misinale claims in a federal civil rights lawsuit filed Thursday that officer Kevin Spencer retaliated against him for filing a complaint about the way he was treated and for damage to his dark blue Audi during the Aug. 25, 2016, encounter.
"I felt like that from the beginning," Misinale said at a new conference in his lawyer's office.
Attorney Bob Sykes called it a "classic case of malicious prosecution."
Misinale was driving his roommate, Johnny Sengamanichanh, from their Taylorsville home to the airport. A "No U-turn" sign was posted at the intersection of 2200 West and 4700 South due to road construction. Misinale said he made a right turn from 2200 West and headed to the northbound I-215 on-ramp on 4700 South when he saw Spencer in the road motioning for him to pull over.
Sengamanichanh said they thought the officer wanted another car that had made a U-turn to stop. As Misinale slowly drove by, Spencer slapped the driver's side windshield and mirror and yelled at him to pull over, according to the lawsuit.
"You hit me. Get the (expletive) out of the car," Spencer shouted. The officer then grabbed Misinale and pulled him out of the car, pushed him against the door and handcuffed him, the lawsuit says.
Misinale, an Intermountain Healthcare medical assistant, said was he was "shocked" that Spencer yanked him out of the car.
"It happened fast," he said. "It was quick but rough."
Spencer accused Misinale of making an illegal U-turn. Misinale explained that he made a right turn at the intersection and that from his home, there was no reason to make a U-turn.
"After looking at the licenses and realizing that he made a mistake," Spencer swore at the men, according to the lawsuit. "He then hurriedly removed the handcuffs from Lopeti, handed back their IDs and rudely ordered them to 'get the (expletive) out of here!'"
As Misinale and Sengamanichanh drove to the airport, they noticed the passenger side mirror dangling from electrical wires.
Misinale called the Unified police precinct in Taylorsville the next day to report how he was treated and see about getting the mirror repaired. A sergeant told him that Spencer had already called the office to say he had "lost his cool" and "made a mistake" in pulling over Misinale's car.
A couple of days later, Misinale went to the precinct to file a complaint.
Most of the officers don't lie, they tell the truth. But this one lied and he lied twice and it was an awful lie to get an innocent person prosecuted for a felony.
–Bob Sykes, attorney
In December 2016, he received a call from the 3rd District Court's pretrial services informing him that there was warrant out for his arrest on a third-degree felony charge of failure to stop or respond to a police command.
"I was kind of freaked out. It's a felony. You can go to prison for that," Misinale said.
In his court declaration, Spencer said he had to jump back as Misinale, driving a gray Ford Mustang, struck his wrist as he drove past him, folding the mirror back.
Sykes called that a "flat-out falsehood." Sykes said the officer didn't have to jump back and that he had hit the mirror, not the other way around.
Misinale hired a lawyer and the felony charge was dropped in June 2017.
In March 2018, prosecutors charged Misinale with misdemeanor interference with an arresting officer, reckless driving and negligent collision in Taylorsville Justice Court. Misinale again hired an attorney and the charges were dropped in June.
Sykes said he doesn't fault prosecutors because they have to rely on what police tell them.
"Most of the officers don't lie, they tell the truth," Sykes said. "But this one lied and he lied twice and it was an awful lie to get an innocent person prosecuted for a felony."
Misinale, 39, said he now gets anxious and that's it's "nerve-wracking" to see a police car behind him on the road. He said wants Spencer "disciplined at least, own up to his mistakes."
The Unified Police Department has not received the lawsuit and is unable to comment, said spokeswoman Sgt. Melody Gray.