Reading man stopped for federal survey sues city, others

Ricardo Nieves claims Dec. 13 stop was illegal and unconstitutional

Reading man stopped for federal survey sues city, others

READING, Pa. - A Reading man is taking the city, its mayor and its police chief to court over what he calls "illegal and unconstitutional... stops of innocent motorists."

Ricardo Nieves said he was driving on Laurel Street in southwest Reading on the morning of Dec. 13 when he was ushered into a nearby parking lot.

Nieves said he noticed a sign that said "paid volunteer service" before a woman approached his car.

"She wanted to ask me a couple questions about my driving behaviors and habits and also a mouth swab, and would pay me for this," Nieves told 69 News.

Nieves was being requested to participate in the 2013 National Roadside Survey, a study done once a decade since the 1970s by the National Highway Transportation Safety Administration, officials said.

"They selected Berks County to be one of the sites and set up a survey," said Chief Bill Heim, Reading Police Department.

Every driver stopped was asked by federal contractors to give breath, saliva and blood samples in exchange for money, but Nieves said the woman who approached him never said who she was or why she was there.

Nieves, a former candidate for Reading City Council, has subsequently filed a lawsuit in U.S. District Court against the city, Heim, Reading Mayor Vaughn Spencer, and Pacific Institute for Research and Evaluation.

Nieves is challenging as "illegal and unconstitutional the city of Reading's policy of effectuating systematic stops of innocent motorists without court warrant, probable cause or even reasonable suspicion to believe that such motorists have committed a crime or violation of the vehicle code," according to court documents.

Heim earlier told 69 News that city officers were only at the site to provide security.

According to the NHTSA, the survey aims to calculate how many drivers get behind the wheel drunk or on any kind of drugs. 

In the 2007 survey, researchers found 12.4 percent of drivers had alcohol in their systems, and about 16 percent had used marijuana, cocaine, over the counter or prescription drugs.

NHTSA told 69 News the survey does not collect DNA and that it is anonymous and 100 percent voluntary, but Nieves said he thinks it was an attack on his civil liberties.

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