(CN) – The 4th Circuit upheld the dismissal of a class action accusing police in Charlottesville, Va., of illegally seizing DNA evidence from black people who matched the description of a serial rapist.
Larry Monroe said police officers violated his Fourth and 14th Amendment rights by questioning him in the 2002 investigation of a serial rapist. Officers allegedly stopped or questioned nearly 200 young black men over several years, looking for a match to the suspect, who was described as a “youthful-looking black male.”
Monroe said this violated his equal-protection rights, because police officers “do not perform such ‘dragnet’ stops of individuals when the victim describes an assailant as white.” He also argued that an officer’s request for a DNA sample constituted an illegal seizure.
A federal judge in Virginia dismissed his equal-protection claims in 2007, ruling that the government does not exclusively classify people by race, and that the police based their investigation solely on victims’ physical description of the suspect.
The lower court also ruled that because Monroe had agreed to the DNA sample, it wasn’t an illegal seizure.
On appeal, Monroe argued that poor relations between police and minority communities made young men believe that the requests for DNA samples were mandatory.
The Richmond-based appeals court upheld both the lower court’s refusal to grant class-action status and its decision to dismiss the constitutional claims.
Judge Beam cited the Supreme Court’s rejection of a racial-profiling claim over the detention and questioning of thousands of young Arab-Muslim men following the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks. Because the attacks were carried about by people matching that specific description, the high court had reasoned, investigations “would produce a disparate, incidental impact on Arab Muslims, even though the purpose of the policy was to target neither Arabs nor Muslims.”
Likewise, the court concluded, Charlottesville police questioned Monroe and others in a “narrowly tailored” way based on victims’ descriptions, which had an “incidental impact” on local black men.