Excellent article by Joel Rubin and Ben Poston of the LA Times examines a disturbing trend. Apparently, more than two-thirds of the drivers pulled over by the Domestic Highway Enforcement Team were Latino, according to a Times analysis of Sheriff’s Department data. And sheriff’s deputies searched the vehicles of more than 3,500 drivers who turned out to have no drugs or other illegal items, the analysis found. The overwhelming majority of those were Latino.
Several of the team’s big drug busts have been dismissed in federal court as the credibility of some deputies came under fire and judges ruled that deputies violated the rights of motorists by conducting unconstitutional searches.
The Times analyzed data from every traffic stop recorded by the team from 2012 through the end of last year — more than 9,000 stops in all — and reviewed records from hundreds of court cases. Among its findings:
- Latino drivers accounted for 69% of the deputies’ stops. Officers from the California Highway Patrol, mainly policing traffic violations on the same section of freeway, pulled over nearly 378,000 motorists during the same period; 40% of them were Latino.
- Two-thirds of Latinos who were pulled over by the Sheriff’s Department team had their vehicles searched, while cars belonging to all other drivers were searched less than half the time.
- Three-quarters of the team’s searches came after deputies asked motorists for consent rather than having evidence of criminal behavior. Several legal scholars said such a high rate of requests for consent is concerning because people typically feel pressured to allow a search or are unaware they can refuse.
- Though Latinos were much more likely to be searched, deputies found drugs or other illegal items in their vehicles at a rate that was not significantly higher than that of black or white drivers.
From top to bottom: L.A. County Sheriff’s Deputies search a motorist’s suitcase. Also a deputy uses a device for measuring density to search for hidden drugs and clutches some tools he uses to perform vehicle searches. (Myung J. Chun / Los Angeles Times)
In December, Sheriff Jim McDonnell heaped praise on the team, ticking off its accomplishments in a lengthy statement. “The importance of this mission cannot be overstated,” the sheriff said.
But several legal and law enforcement experts said the department’s own records strongly suggest the deputies are violating the civil rights of Latinos by racially profiling, whether intentionally or not.
“When they say, ‘We’re getting all these drugs out of here,’ they are not taking into account the cost,” said David Harris, a law professor at the University of Pittsburgh who studies racial profiling by police. “They are sacrificing their own legitimacy in the community as a whole and the Latino community in particular.”
Kimberly Fuentes, research director for the California League of United Latin American Citizens, described The Times’ findings as “extremely disturbing and troubling” and said the advocacy organization would demand a meeting with Sheriff’s Department officials.
“These findings risk tarnishing any trust between the Sheriff’s Department and the Latino community,” Fuentes said.
My opinion? A pullover and search of your vehicle is unlawful if the reason for the pullover/search is racial profiling. Racial profiling is the practice of targeting individuals for police or security detention based on their race or ethnicity in the belief that certain minority groups are more likely to engage in unlawful behavior. Examples of racial profiling by federal, state, and local law enforcement agencies are illustrated in legal settlements and data collected by governmental agencies and private groups, suggesting that minorities are disproportionately the subject of routine traffic stops and other security-related practices.
Also, pretextual searches are also unlawful. Pretext is an excuse to do something or say something that is not accurate. Pretexts may be based on a half-truth or developed in the context of a misleading fabrication. Pretexts have been used to conceal the true purpose or rationale behind actions and words. A pretextual search and arrest by law enforcement officers is one carried out for illegal purposes such as to conduct an unjustified search and seizure.
Please contact my office if you, a friend or family member was charged with a crime after being racially profiled and/or pulled over for unlawful pretext. I provide zealous representation to all defendants facing these circumstances.