Three police officers have filed suit against ABC for $3 million claiming the network hired black people to drive around in an expensive car and intentionally break traffic laws, according to an Associated Press report. The Disney-owned network then accused the three of racism when the officers stopped them.
The officers were featured in a Nov. 27, 1996, episode of PrimeTime Live called "Driving While Black," which alleged the officers stopped the men only because of their race, according to the suit.
The officers — Louis Hornberger, Robert Tonkery, and James Mennuti — were filmed on hidden camera stopping a Mercedes-Benz in October 1996 with three black men inside, the lawsuit said.
According to the Dec. 2, 1997 AP report, the suit claims ABC hired the three men to drive around a drug-plagued neighborhood in a predominantly white central New Jersey town for several days in the Mercedes, equipped with hidden camera.
Hornberger said the officers stopped the car on the third night after they observed the car breaking several traffic laws, including disobeying a traffic sign at a dangerous intersection in front of the officers' car.
"Not too many kids drive $85,000 cars," Hornberger was quoted in The Star-Ledger of Newark. "And when they came in, they were doing everything they could to stand out. They wanted to be seen."
The lawsuit also accused the network of violating state wiretapping laws by using the hidden camera.
This is not ABC's first encounter with lawsuits regarding hidden cameras. The network had to defend its reporting with hidden cameras earlier in the year in a lawsuit filed by the Food Lion supermarket chain. A North Carolina jury ordered ABC to pay Food Lion $5.5 million, saying the network lied to get jobs for undercover reporters who then wore spy cameras and hidden recorders in Food Lion stores.