M.D.N.C.: Gov’t fails to show sheriff’s office discriminated against Hispanics in law enforcement

The government’s civil case against the Alamance County, N.C. sheriff fails to sufficiently show racial discrimination against Hispanics to justify relief. The court wasn’t kind to the Sheriff because of the use of ethnic slurs by jail deputies, but there was “no evidence” of any deprivation of rights, and the sheriff can apply for attorney’s fees. (The opinion is nearly 250 pages long.) United States v. Johnson, 2015 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 103564 (M.D.N.C. August 7, 2015)*:

What has been presented to the court are the Government’s claims that Sheriff Johnson and ACSO violated federal law under § 14141 by engaging in a “pattern or practice” of discriminatory law enforcement against Hispanics in contravention of the Fourth and Fourteenth Amendments. After careful and thorough consideration, as detailed more extensively above, the court concludes that the Government has not met its burden of demonstrating that they have done so. With no evidence that any individual was unconstitutionally deprived of his or her rights under the Fourth or Fourteenth Amendments, the Government’s case rested largely on vague, isolated statements attributed to Sheriff Johnson and on statistical analyses. Yet, not a single person testified that any ACSO employee carried out any alleged improper directive or otherwise violated any individual’s constitutional rights – indeed, all witnesses, including those called by the Government, denied that they ever did or knew any ACSO officer who did. The Government’s statistical analyses similarly failed to constitute reliable and persuasive proof of the claims under applicable legal standards, having failed to sufficiently compare ACSO’s treatment of Hispanics to others who were similarly situated. In the context of the significant law enforcement challenges facing ACSO, the Government’s evidence falls short.

While ACSO’s law enforcement practices do not constitute an unlawful “pattern or practice” of constitutional deprivations in violation of federal law, the court’s decision cannot be read to approve or condone all the conduct presented as evidence at trial. Indeed, some of it — for example, the use of ethnic slurs by a few officers largely in the County jail –- demonstrated offensive and reprehensible activity that should not be tolerated in any civil society, much less in a law enforcement environment. Other evidence demonstrated potential internal weaknesses in ACSO, such as lack of a system to monitor selection of checkpoint locations, weakness in internal reporting and condemnation of conduct that violates ACSO’s internal policy manual, and a lack of substantive review processes for stops and post-stop outcomes. The absence of a finding of a violation of federal law should not be construed as approval of the status quo, and such matters deserve immediate attention.

For the reasons set forth herein, therefore,

IT IS ORDERED that the claims of the United States be DENIED, that Judgment be entered for Defendant Sheriff Johnson, and that the complaint (Doc. 1) be DISMISSED WITH PREJUDICE.

IT IS FURTHER ORDERED that any request for costs be filed within thirty (30) days, pursuant to the requirements of Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 54(d), Local Rule 54, and the Equal Access to Justice Act (“EAJA”), 28 U.S.C. § 2412.

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