Latino Bias Slammed in North Carolina County

     (CN) – A North Carolina sheriff’s department routinely discriminated against Latinos, whom the sheriff himself referred to as “Taco eaters,” the Justice Department said.
     The conclusion stems from a two-year investigation into the policies, procedures and training materials of the Alamance County Sheriff’s Office. Assistant Attorney General Thomas Perez says his office looked at data on traffic stops, arrests and the location of vehicle checkpoints, and interviewed 125 individuals.
     Though Latinos make up about 11 percent of the Alamance population, Sheriff Terry Johnson’s made his bias against them known, according to the 11-page report released Tuesday.
     Investigators found that the Alamance County Sheriff’s Department illegally targeted Latinos for at traffic stops and detained and arrested them without probable cause since at least 2007.
     In fact, Johnson’s subordinates were told, “If you stop a Mexican, don’t write a citation, arrest him,” according to the government.
     As a result, sheriff’s deputies held routine checkpoints just outside Latino neighborhoods and were 4 to 10 times more likely to stop Latino drivers than non-Latinos, the report found.
     Many of the citations issues involved drivers cited only for driving without a license, an offense not observable from the road, the agency said. Further, deputies routinely released white drivers stopped for the same violations with only a warning.
     The report also cites an April 2007 article that appeared in the News and Observer newspaper in which Johnson made several inflammatory statements about Latinos.
     In the article, titled “Sheriffs Help Feds Deport Illegal Aliens,” Johnson reportedly said anyone of Mexican national origin was 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.”
     Johnson also obstructed the federal investigation into these alleged activities by withholding requested documents and falsifying records, according to the report. Federal investigators say members of the department also feared retaliation if they cooperated.
     “The Alamance County Sheriff’s Office’s egregious pattern of racial profiling violates the Constitution and federal laws, creates distrust between the police and the community and inhibits the reporting of crime and cooperation in criminal investigations,” Assistant Attorney General Perez said.
     “Constitutional policing and effective law enforcement go hand-in-hand,” he added. “We hope to resolve the concerns outlined in our findings by working collaboratively with ACSO, but we will not hesitate to take appropriate legal action if ACSO chooses a different course.”
     The report recommends a list of steps to end discrimination by the department, including remedial training, new internal procedures for recognizing and investigating civil rights violations, and community outreach. If the county fails to reach a negotiated settlement, the Justice Department could take the county to federal court.
     Johnson flatly denied the allegations.
     “We have never discriminated against Spanish-speaking persons in any way, shape or form,” the sheriff said in a statement. “The Obama administration has decided to continue to wage war on local law enforcement.”

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