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Monday, June 10, 2024 | Back issues
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Feds Scorch Sheriff for Racial Bias

GREENSBORO, N.C. (CN) - A North Carolina sheriff orders officers to discriminate against Latinos, telling them, "go out there and get me some of those taco eaters," and blew off the federal government's order to stop it, calling a Justice Department report "meaningless," the United States claims in court.

The United States of America sued Alamance County Sheriff Terry S. Johnson, in his official capacity, after a 2-year investigation of his office.

Alamance is a rural county in north central North Carolina, east of Greensboro and west of Chapel Hill. It is 71.1 percent white, 18.8 percent African-American and 11 percent Latino, according to the complaint. [Sic.]

Latinos are four to 10 times more likely to be stopped by Johnson's sheriff's officers than white people, the government says.

The Justice Department looked at data on traffic stops, arrests, results of vehicle checkpoints, and interviewed 125 people. It summarized its investigation in an 11-page letter to the county in September.

The Justice Department found the Alamance County Sheriff's Department has illegally targeted Latinos and arrested them without probable cause since at least 2007.

The new lawsuit against Johnson, filed by the Justice Department's civil rights division, is replete with ugly accusations.

During a 2008 staff meeting, Sheriff Johnson "directed the assembled supervisors to tell their officers, 'If you stop a Mexican, don't write a citation, arrest him,'" the complaint states.

"Defendant Johnson fosters a culture of bias against Latinos at ACSO 9alamance County Sheriff's Office] through these explicitly discriminatory commands and his use of racial epithets. As a result, deputies understand that ACSO leadership not only tolerates, but encourages, their discriminatory conduct."

According to the complaint:

"Defendant Johnson has repeatedly urged ACSO deputies to target Latinos. For example:

"a. In a staff meeting ... in January 2007, defendant Johnson yelled 'bring me some Mexicans!' while banging his fists on the table.

"b. Defendant separately instructed two members of ACSO's command staff to 'go out there and catch me some Mexicans.'"

And: "The anti-Latino sentiments expressed by ACSO leadership encourage discrimination by other ACSO personnel. Indeed, racially or ethnically insensitive comments are commonly made by ACSO deputies. For example:

"a. During a traffic stop on or about April 2010, an ACSO deputy told a Latina passenger, 'Mexican go home!'

"b. On or about May 2010, after a Latina driver provided her valid North Carolina driver's license to an ACSO deputy during a traffic stop, the deputy retorted, 'you stole it - the woman in the picture is pretty and you're ugly. We're going to deport you.'

"c. While responding to a call for service in the predominantly Latino Rocky Top mobile home park during the summer of 2011, an ACSO deputy threatened to deport the parents of children who had broken a neighbor's window, asserting that the parents had until the following day to figure out who would pay to fix the window, 'or we're going to come back and deport you all.' When the deputy returned a few days later and encountered one of the parents, the deputy told him, 'it's a good thing you fixed the window, or you'd be in Mexico.'

"d. ACSO detention officers use the terms 'wetback' and 'spic' to refer to Latino individuals in their custody."

And: "These discriminatory activities are the product of a culture of disregard for Latinos cultivated by defendant Johnson and other ACSO leaders. ACSO leadership has repeatedly directed its deputies to target Latinos during enforcement actions and used derogatory comments and racial epithets to describe Latinos. For instance, while at a vehicle checkpoint, Defendant Johnson issued instructions to his subordinates to 'go out there and get me some of those taco eaters,' which his

subordinates understood as a directive to target Latinos for arrest.

"ACSO's deficient policies and virtually non-existent oversight of its biased policing activities further underscore its intent to discriminate against Latinos. ACSO consciously ignores the discriminatory effects of its practices, as is demonstrated by its ineffective training, virtually non-existent data collection, analysis, and accountability measures, poor supervision, and other departures from standard law enforcement practices."

And: "During a December 2008 meeting discussing an upcoming operation at the overwhelmingly Latino Calloway Drive mobile home park, defendant encouraged his subordinates to get tough on the park's Latino residents, saying, 'Hell comes to these places and the devil gonna come with him. And you folks gonna be the devil.'"

Johnson's deputies routinely stop and cite Latinos for driving without a license, an offense not observable from the road, the Justice Department says. Deputies routinely release white drivers for the same violation with only a warning.

The Justice Department's September 2011 letter to the county cites an April 2007 article in the News & Observer newspaper, titled "Sheriffs Help Feds Deport Illegal Aliens."

In a "widely publicized statement," Johnson told the newspaper that anyone of Mexican origin is inherently suspicious: "'Their values are a lot different - their morals - than what we have here," the article quotes him as saying. "In Mexico, there's nothing wrong with having sex with a 12-, 13-year old girl. ... They do a lot of drinking down in Mexico,'" according to the September letter, which cites the News & Observer.

In its lawsuit, the Justice Department says it warned Johnson on Sept. 12 this year that he was violating federal laws "and that this lawsuit would follow unless defendant entered into a court enforceable agreement remedying the violations of the Constitution and federal law."

However: "On September 26, 2012, counsel for defendant Johnson declined the United States' invitation to enter into meaningful settlement discussions, asserting that the United States' legal conclusions were 'meaningless' and that 'no remedial measures are needed.'"

The Justice Department seeks declaratory judgment, wants Johnson and his deputies enjoined from violating the Constitution and discriminating against Latinos, and ordered to adopt and implement policies to remedy the pattern of unlawful behavior.

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