Kansas Highway Patrol ordered to keep the “two-step” on the dance floor

Highway patrol car stops vehicle.

Road trippers making the journey across Kansas can rest easy following a recent federal ruling, especially cars traveling on a highway that runs between legal states. Travelers on highways from Colorado and Missouri have been unfairly targeted by a Kansas-specific method for searching people’s vehicles. The practice has been used as of late to target vehicles with plates from states with legal cannabis.

“This is a huge win — for our clients and for anyone else who travels on Kansas highways. We are gratified that the court saw the ongoing harms of KHP’s unconstitutional practices and stepped in to stop the department’s widespread misconduct,” said Sharon Brett, legal director of the ACLU of Kansas in an interview with the Kansas Reflector.

Kansas Highway Patrol (KHP) teaches recruits a “two-step” technique where officers end a routine traffic stop and then start a new mission to find information that grants access for searching the vehicle.

Last week, a federal judge ordered KHP to stop this practice in a move praised by the American Civil Liberties Union of Kansas.

A lawsuit filed by Blain Shaw prompted the action. Shaw and his brother were stopped for going 91 mph in a 75 mph zone while traveling to Denver.

Shaw was ticketed for speeding following the routine stop, and the officer walked away. But in a “two-step,” he returned to ask if the brothers were carrying anything illegal. They said no and declined permission to search the vehicle, so the officer called a K-9 unit and searched it anyway.

After nothing illegal was found in the search, Shaw was escorted to a nearby law enforcement facility where cops made copies of his medical records, Colorado ID, and medical cannabis card.

Shaw v. Jones was filed in 2020 by the ACLU on behalf of Shaw and other plaintiffs. The defendant listed was Herman Jones, KHP Superintendent. The ACLU challenged that the K-9 search violated rights granted by the fourth amendment. It also moved to stop targeting out-of-state drivers for searches and abolish the “two-step” maneuver.

The lawsuit absorbed another inspired by a “two-step” incident where KHP ripped apart a Colorado family’s recreation vehicle in a 2018 search.

Following a two-week trial, the court has held Jones responsible for unlawfully detaining motorists without consent or reason and declared the “two-step” a violation of fourth amendment rights, declaring the two-step is no longer lawful practice.

“(The ruling) demonstrates that courts will not tolerate the cowboy mentality of policing that subjects our citizens to conditions of humiliation, degradation, and, in some tragic cases, violence,” Brett concluded.

Cara Wietstock is Senior Content Producer of GreenState.com and has been working in the cannabis space since 2011. She has covered the cannabis business beat for Ganjapreneur and The Spokesman Review. You can find her living in Bellingham, Washington with her husband, son, and a small zoo of pets.