by Billy Ball
A much-anticipated civil rights lawsuit for Alamance County's embattled sheriff is upon us.
In a statement Thursday, the U.S. Department of Justice said it has officially filed a civil suit against Sheriff Terry Johnson, three months after accusing Johnson's office of racially profiling Latinos.
Following a two-year investigation of Johnson's office, DOJ officials alleged in September that Alamance deputies target Latinos for traffic stops, install checkpoints in Latino neighborhoods and vary enforcement activity based on a driver's ethnicity.
The DOJ statement came weeks after an Indy analysis of traffic stop data found Latinos were twice as likely as non-Latinos to be arrested during traffic stops, a key finding because—under Alamance's now stripped 287(g) partnership with federal customs officials—Alamance deputies could spur deportations upon arrest.
“This is an abuse of power case involving a sheriff who misuses his position of authority to unlawfully target Latinos in Alamance County,” said Thomas E. Perez, DOJ Assistant Attorney General for the Civil Rights Division, in a statement Thursday. “Sheriff Johnson’s directives and leadership have caused ACSO to violate the constitutional rights of Latinos in Alamance County and eroded public trust in ACSO.”
In the release, the DOJ said Alamance "declined to enter into meaningful settlement negotiations" after the September allegations.
The DOJ goes on to say that Johnson's tactics violate the Equal Protection Clause of the 14th Amendment.
Johnson's office has long maintained that there is no evidence of profiling in Alamance.