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Justice Department sues Alamance County Sheriff for discrimination against Latinos

The Justice Department today filed suit against Alamance County Sheriff Terry S. Johnson,  accusing him individually and his office of discriminating against Latinos there.

The complaint alleges that the Sheriff’s Office has been engaging in a pattern or practice of discriminatory policing against Latinos in violation of the U.S. Constitution and the Violent Crime Control and Law Enforcement Act.

As stated in the Department’s press release, those discriminatory practices include:

ACSO deputies unlawfully target Latino drivers for traffic stops:

o    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;

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

o    ACSO deputies use vehicle checkpoints in a discriminatory manner to target Latinos.

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

The complaint further alleges that these discriminatory practices are deeply rooted in a culture that begins with Sheriff Johnson and permeates the entire agency.   For example:

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.

The lawsuit follows a lengthy investigation of the office’s police practices.  DOJ issued a formal findings letter on Sept. 18, 2012  detailing the discriminatory practices and inviting the sheriff to negotiate a court-enforceable agreement to remedy the violations found.   Sheriff Johnson’s office declined.

“This is an abuse of power case involving a sheriff who misuses his position of authority to unlawfully target Latinos in Alamance County,” Thomas E. Perez, Assistant Attorney General for the Civil Rights Division said in the release. “Sheriff Johnson’s directives and leadership have caused ACSO to violate the constitutional rights of Latinos in Alamance County and eroded public trust in ACSO.”

A copy of the DOJ complaint is here.

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