The ACLU of Rhode Island today filed a lawsuit in R.I. District Court on behalf of Jean Philippe Barros, a person of Cape Verdean descent who, the suit claims, was the victim of two incidents of racial profiling within a year by Scituate police. The suit, filed by ACLU volunteer attorney Thomas G. Briody, argues that the incidents violated Barros’ right to be free from unreasonable searches and seizures and to equal protection of the laws. The suit seeks unspecified damages and an injunction against the Town to prohibit any further harassment or detention of Barros without probable cause.
The major incident of racial profiling occurred in May, 2001, when Barros, a Pawtucket resident, was driving through Scituate. He was pulled over for not having a Rhode Island inspection sticker. The fact that the car lacked such a sticker was not surprising since Barros was driving his sister’s car, which had Michigan 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 another incident, seven months earlier, Barros was parked in his ex-wife’s driveway, when he was approached by a Scituate police officer, who required Barros to produce identification and answer questions concerning a series of alleged break-ins in the area.
ACLU attorney Briody first sought, unsuccessfully, to resolve the matter without filing suit. In rejecting the ACLU’s claims, the Town’s insurer said that the officer’s actions were justified because Barros’ reactions after being stopped “were such that caused the officer to inquire further.” Exactly what caused the officer to “inquire further” is explained in a letter to the ACLU from the town’s police chief, William Mack, who said that Barros “made the accusation that the stop was racially motivated.” The ACLU suit argues that the stop of Barros was racially motivated, and that he was questioned, detained and ticketed because of his race and for questioning the motivation for the stop.
ACLU attorney Briody said today: “We made several attempts to resolve this matter amicably, but the defendants refused to acknowledge any responsibility for their improper treatment of Mr. Barros. If it takes a lawsuit to make a police department pay attention when innocent citizens express concern about mistreatment because of their race, then we will file one.” Added Barros, a former aide to Governor Edward DiPrete: “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 stated: “The fact pattern in this case is all too depressingly familiar to people in the minority community. Unfortunately, so is 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. This type of discriminatory treatment cannot be allowed to stand unanswered.”