The federal government had alleged that from 2007 to today, Johnson and his office had engaged in a number of discriminatory practices, as identified by the court in the decision, in violation of the Fourth and Fourteenth Amendments.
Principally, the Government charges that Alamance County Sheriff’s Office (“ACSO”) disproportionately subjects Hispanics to unreasonable searches, arrests them for minor infractions (in lieu of issuing warnings or citations), targets them at vehicle checkpoints located in predominantly Hispanic neighborhoods, uses ethnically-offensive epithets to refer to Hispanics and otherwise tolerates activities of deputies that evidence anti-Hispanic bias, automatically and selectively refers Hispanic arrestees to U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement investigators for deportation, and otherwise engages in deficient policies, training, and oversight that facilitates discriminatory enforcement.
Schroeder found that the government had failed to introduce any evidence of individuals who were deprived of their constitutional rights and relied instead upon “vague, isolated statements attributed to Sheriff Johnson.”
And nobody testified that any ACSO employee carried out any improper directive or otherwise violated any individual’s constitutional rights, Schroeder noted.
“Indeed, all witnesses, including those called by the Government, denied that they ever did or knew any ACSO officer who did,” Schroeder wrote.
The judge also found that statistical analysis offered by the government was unreliable and not persuasive, “failing to sufficiently compare ACSO’s treatment of Hispanics to others who were similarly situated.”
Although ruling that the evidence of conduct by sheriff’s officers did not rise to the level of constitutional violations, Schroeder conceded that much of it was nonetheless troublesome:
While ACSO’s law enforcement practices do not constitute an unlawful “pattern or practice” of constitutional deprivations in violation of federal law, the court’s decision cannot be read to approve or condone all the conduct presented as evidence at trial. Indeed, some of it — for example, the use of ethnic slurs by a few officers largely in the County jail — demonstrated offensive and reprehensible activity that should not be tolerated in any civil society, much less in a law enforcement environment. Other evidence demonstrated potential internal weaknesses in ACSO, such as lack of a system to monitor selection of checkpoint locations, weakness in internal reporting and condemnation of conduct that violates ACSO’s internal policy manual, and a lack of substantive review processes for stops and post-stop outcomes. The absence of a finding of a violation of federal law should not be construed as approval of the status quo, and such matters deserve immediate attention.
The full decision is here.