Court Rules that Trial Can Proceed in ACLU’s Racial Profiling Suit Against Scituate Police
Posted: August 10, 2004|Category: Discrimination Category: Racial/Ethnic Discrimination Category: Police Practices
A federal judge has rejected efforts by the Scituate Police Department to dismiss a racial profiling lawsuit filed by the ACLU of Rhode Island on behalf of Pawtucket resident Jean Philippe Barros, a person of Cape Verdean descent. As a result, the case can proceed to trial.
The suit, filed in January 2003 by ACLU volunteer attorney Thomas G. Briody, argues that Barros’ rights to be free from unreasonable searches and seizures and to equal protection of the laws were violated when he was pulled over by a Scituate police officer for not having a Rhode Island inspection sticker. That the car lacked such a sticker was not surprising since Barros was driving his sister’s car, which had Missouri license plates. When Barros asked the officer if he was stopped because of his race, the officer, even while acknowledging he had no basis for pulling Barros over, demanded to see Barros’ license, registration and proof of insurance. When Barros was initially unable to find the registration, he was given a citation even though he found the document while the officer was still there. The officer also gave him a citation for driving without insurance. Both of the charges were later dismissed in court.
In a written opinion received today, U.S. District Judge Mary Lisi rejected the town’s motion to dismiss the illegal search and racial profiling claims. The judge noted that the officer “gives no explanation as to why, after following Barros for over a mile and a half, he did not realize that Barros was operating a vehicle which was registered in Missouri and therefore was not required to have a Rhode Island inspection sticker.” The judge concluded that, viewing the evidence in the light most favorable to Barros, “a reasonable jury could infer from the facts that [Officer Kevin] Pendergast’s stop of Barros was merely pretextual and that Pendergast’s actions were racially motivated.”
However, the judge dismissed another part of the suit which challenged an earlier incident where Barros, parked in his ex-wife’s driveway, was approached by a different Scituate police officer and required to produce identification and answer questions concerning a series of alleged break-ins in the area. The court found the officer’s actions in that incident reasonable under the circumstances.
ACLU attorney Briody said today: “I am very pleased that Judge Lisi recognized that there are serious questions as to whether Mr. Barros was illegally stopped by the Scituate police in violation of his right to equal protection of the laws. Black men driving in Rhode Island should not have to fear being stopped by police simply because of the color of their skin.” At the time the suit was filed, Barros, a former aide to Governor Edward DiPrete, had said: “I feel strongly about pursuing this issue because I have two sons that I love dearly, and whom I would hate to see subjected to the same pain and injustice that I endured at the hands of those we pay to protect and serve us.”
RI ACLU executive director Steven Brown added: “The fact pattern in this case is all too familiar to people in the minority community, as was the police department’s response. Mr. Barros was stopped for no legitimate reason. Instead of receiving an apology from the officer, he received a ticket. Instead of receiving an apology from the police department, he was accused of being overly sensitive. I am very pleased that the Court has ruled that there is enough evidence for this case to move forward.”