DOJ: Alamance Sheriff Shows Pattern Of Discrimination Against Latinos

10:28 PM, Sep 18, 2012   |    comments
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Graham, NC-- Last summer, the US Justice Department confirmed it was investigating Alamance County Sheriff Terry Johnson for possible discrimination against Latinos.  

The Department of Justice lawsuit also claimed that employees of the Sheriff's Department fear retaliation if they talk with federal investigators looking into allegations of discriminatory policing and discriminatory. Copy of complaint

Today, on its website, the Justice Department said this about their findings in the investigation:

Following a comprehensive investigation, the Justice Department announced today its findings that the Alamance County Sheriff's Office (ACSO) in North Carolina, under the leadership of Sheriff Terry S. Johnson, engages in a pattern or practice of misconduct that violates the Constitution and federal law. The department conducted its investigation, which it opened on June 2, 2010, pursuant to the Violent Crime Control and Law Enforcement Act of 1994 and Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 (Title VI).

The Justice Department finds reasonable cause to believe that ACSO engages in a pattern or practice of discriminatory policing against Latinos in violation of the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment, the Fourth Amendment, the Violent Crime Control and Law Enforcement Act and Title VI. ACSO's discriminatory policing activities include:

--ACSO deputies target Latino drivers for traffic stops;

--A study of ACSO's traffic stops on three major county roadways found that deputies were between four and 10 times more likely to stop Latino drivers than non-Latino drivers;

--ACSO deputies routinely locate checkpoints just outside Latino neighborhoods, forcing residents to endure police checks when entering or leaving their communities;

--ACSO practices at vehicle checkpoints often vary based on a driver's ethnicity. Deputies insist on examining identification of Latino drivers, while allowing drivers of other ethnicities to pass through without showing identification;

--ACSO deputies arrest Latinos for minor traffic violations while issuing citations or warnings to non-Latinos for the same violations;

--ACSO uses jail booking and detention practices, including practices related to immigration status checks, that discriminate against Latinos;

--The sheriff and ACSO's leadership explicitly instruct deputies to target Latinos with discriminatory traffic stops and other enforcement activities;

--The sheriff and ACSO leadership foster a culture of bias by using anti-Latino epithets; and

--ACSO engages in substandard reporting and monitoring practices that mask its discriminatory conduct.

Investigators said that taken together, these practices undermine ACSO's ability to serve and protect Alamance County's Latino residents and the community at large.

Sheriff Johnson told WFMY News 2 in June 2011 that the Sheriff's Office strongly disputes allegations lodged against it. His response said the Alamance County Sheriff's Office has fully complied with all requests for documents made by the DOJ and that his department had never "forbid any personnel from speaking with Department of Justice." Copy of Statement

At a news conference on Tuesday, Johnson denied the allegations.

"I would like to reiterate, we have never discriminated against Spanish-speaking persons in any way, shape, form or fashion here at the Alamance County Sheriff's Office as long as I have ever been sheriff," said Johnson. 

Chuck Kitchen, Johnson's attorney, told the media that the Department of Justice took the Sheriff's comments completely out of context.

"This is not what our Sheriff stands for in Alamance County. He does not believe in discrimination. He will take action against any employee, any deputy that discriminates against people," said Kitchen.

Johnson also blamed the President Obama for the report. 

"The Obama Administration has decided to continue to wage war on local law enforcement," said Johnson.

News 2 also spoke with an attorney Marty Rosenbluth, who represents ten people who all say they were victims of racial profiling in Alamance County.

Rosenbluth said his clients weren't doing anything that was visibly wrong, but they were pulled over.  And when they were, deputies found they were driving without a license.

All of them are undocumented immigrants, so they now face possible deportation.

"And unless the county deputies have ESP, how do they know that they don't have a license unless they're engaged in racial profiling?" said Rosenbluth. "People are very scared. Because there is so much racial animosity on the part of local law enforcement towards the Latino population, it creates an atmosphere of fear."

Latest Update: The Department of Homeland Security's Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) terminated the Alamance County Sheriff's Office's 287(g) jail model agreement, ICE said in a release from Press Secretary Barbara Gonzalez.  

The 287(g) initiative allows state and local law enforcement to enter into an agreement with ICE granting authority for immigration enforcement within their jurisdiction, according to the ICE website.

ICE is also restricting the department's access to the Secure Communities program.

Federal agents will continue to enforce federal immigration laws in Alamance County in "smart, effective ways," according to ICE's release.

WFMY News 2 is working on the latest developments. Stay with and WFMY News 2 for updates. 

WFMY News 2/US Dept. of Justice

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