Alamance County deputies racially profile Latinos. That's one of many key findings in a long-awaited statement Tuesday from the U.S. Department of Justice. It follows a two-year probe into numerous allegations of profiling and biased policing involving the Alamance County Sheriff's Office (ACSO) and Sheriff Terry Johnson.
DOJ concluded the sheriff's office violated the U.S. Constitution and federal law by targeting Latino drivers for traffic stops, erecting checkpoints outside Latino neighborhoods and varying enforcement tactics based on ethnicity.
"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 investigation," U.S. Assistant Attorney General Thomas Perez said in Tuesday's release. "Constitutional policing and effective law enforcement go hand-in-hand. 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 findings arrive one month after an Indy analysis of traffic stop data in the primarily rural county west of the Triangle. The Indy report determined Latino motorists are twice as likely as non-Latinos to be arrested by Alamance deputies during traffic stops, and that Latino arrest rates in Alamance are far higher than in other North Carolina counties.
That includes counties that, like Alamance, partner with immigration officials in the 287(g) program, a controversial initiative extending customs enforcement powers to local police.
Critics say the program offers incentives for police to racially profile drivers. Advocates like Johnson say it's a necessary tool for identifying and deporting immigration offenders.
According to Tuesday's statement, a DOJ traffic study found Alamance deputies are four to 10 times more likely to stop Latino drivers than non-Latino drivers. Meanwhile, deputies "routinely" locate checkpoints outside Latino neighborhoods and arrest Latinos for minor traffic violations while issuing citations or warnings to non-Latinos for the same violations.
DOJ officials contend ACSO leaders "explicitly" order deputies to target Latinos and "foster a culture of bias by using anti-Latino epithets." Furthermore, ACSO's reporting and monitoring practices "mask its discriminatory conduct," the DOJ said.
ACSO spokesman Randy Jones declined to offer a comment at press time Tuesday, although the agency was slated to hold a news conference later in the afternoon.
Marty Rosenbluth, a Durham attorney who has specialized in defending Latino drivers, celebrated the DOJ release.
"This is confirmation for what we've been saying since 2008," Rosenbluth said. "It's just a huge relief to see that the Alamance County sheriff is finally going to be held accountable for racial profiling."
Tuesday's DOJ statement was released three days before four ACSO officials, including Johnson, planned to attend a Texas training session sponsored by the Federation for American Immigration Reform (FAIR), a controversial organization known for its fiery anti-immigrant rhetoric. The Southern Poverty Law Center denotes FAIR as a hate group.