Police allegedly single out blacks I-95 drug team violating court agreement, ACLU says

November 15, 1996|By Kris Antonelli | Kris Antonelli,SUN STAFF

The American Civil Liberties Union accused Maryland State Police yesterday of continuing to stop, detain and search motorists on the basis of race, in violation of a 1995 federal court agreement.

An ACLU motion filed yesterday in U.S. District Court in Baltimore says members of a drug-interdiction team patrolling Interstate 95 in Baltimore, Harford and Cecil counties stop and search blacks disproportionately along that section of the highway.

It asks that state police pay a $250,000 penalty, turn over the names and addresses of all motorists stopped and detained since January 1995, continue giving the court information on searches and detentions until 1998, and provide additional information about motorist stops.

State police officials, who have consistently denied discriminating against the black family that was the subject of the original 1992 suit, continued yesterday to deny any wrongdoing.

"We can't attest to or validate their figures," Betty S. Sconion, an assistant attorney general and special counsel to the state police, said of the ACLU. "We agreed to reinforce our policy in writing and have instituted it in our training programs, as we were required to do."

The original suit, filed in 1992 by the ACLU on behalf of a black Washington lawyer and his family, charged the state police with targeting black motorists for stops and searches.

As part of the settlement, state police agreed to file quarterly reports with U.S. District Judge Catherine C. Blake detailing the race of motorists and other factors in all searches consented to by motorists.

Yesterday's motion was based on statistics compiled during an ACLU survey of motorists along I-95 and on state police figures.

Susan Goering, executive director of the ACLU of Maryland, said the ACLU decided to conduct its own study after court-ordered state police statistics showed that 73 percent of motorists stopped and detained along I-95 from January 1995 to September 1996 were black.

"We knew that figure was ridiculous, but we didn't know by how much until we did the survey," said Goering. The ACLU thinks that blacks made up a smaller proportion of travelers on the highway during that time, she said.

In the ACLU survey -- designed by a Temple University professor and modeled on one conducted along the New Jersey Turnpike -- volunteers and interns traveled I-95 from June to August, counting motorists and noting their race and whether they were speeding, according to the motion.

The survey found that blacks made up 16.9 percent of of motorists on the highway.

The ACLU also said that:

One in every five motorists state police detained and searched from January 1995 to September 1996 was white, according to state police. The ACLU's summer survey found that three-quarters of I-95 motorists committing traffic violations were white.

Troopers patrolling I-95 detain and search black motorists at more than twice the rate of troopers patrolling other Maryland highways, according to state police.

State police reported that more than 70 percent of their searches of motorists were fruitless.

Statewide, the percentages of black and white motorists found with drugs were nearly equal: 28.4 percent of blacks and 28.8 percent of whites, state police said.

"The odds that three-quarters of [state police] detainees would be black by happenstance are about one in a quintillion," said John Lamberth, the Temple University professor who designed the ACLU survey.

The motion said state police officials withheld computer records from the ACLU and threatened those taking the survey with arrest if they stood alongside I-95.

The ACLU also said that state police officials directed "gratuitous insults" toward the ACLU and its lawyers during drug-interdiction training sessions and said they were complying with the court settlement only because they were required to do so, not because of any wrongdoing.

Sconion denied that the ACLU survey takers were threatened with arrest but noted that standing alongside I-95 counting cars is illegal and a safety hazard.

Pub Date: 11/15/96

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