State police deny searches are race-based ACLU again challenges I-95 stops

November 16, 1996|By Kris Antonelli | Kris Antonelli,SUN STAFF

In the nearly two years since a court order supposedly settled the issue of race-based searches, state police are not prepared to explain why almost three-quarters of the motorists they stop along a northern stretch of Interstate 95 are black.

But they insist that the specialized drug interdiction unit near the center of the dispute was disbanded this summer because of financial constraints, not problems with traffic stops.

And they vow to fight a contempt motion filed Thursday by the American Civil Liberties Union claiming that state police continue to use race as the sole reason for stopping and searching motorists along a 44-mile stretch of I-95 through Baltimore, Harford and Cecil counties.

"I am not going to address the ACLU figures or argue them in [the] paper, that will be done in court," said Capt. Greg Shipley, a state police spokesman.

Troopers from the state police JFK Barracks in Perryville, including some from the now-disbanded unit, feature prominently in the contempt motion filed in U.S. District Court in Baltimore. It accuses state police of violating a 1995 federal court agreement barring race-based searches.

And while the drug unit has been disbanded, Shipley said that "I-95 is an established drug corridor and we continually encounter drug trafficking there. We are not going to stop drug interdiction efforts in Maryland."

He said the troopers from the former unit had been assigned to regular patrol duties at the JFK Barracks. Those duties include drug interdiction and criminal enforcement.

This year, the 41 troopers at the JFK Barracks have seized 98 pounds of marijuana, 149 pounds of powder cocaine, 42.5 pounds of crack cocaine and 41 pounds of heroin during traffic stops in the patrol area, which includes that corridor.

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

While state police have steadfastly denied using racial profiles -- which have targeted young minority men driving late-model cars and carrying pagers or wearing gold jewelry -- they maintain that black motorists are searched for reasons other than race.

According to the ACLU, state police report that 73 percent of the motorists stopped along I-95 are black, while the group said that in a summer survey that only 16.9 percent of the drivers spotted by its volunteers and interns were black.

"I am not surprised to hear that," said Bernetha George, vice president of the Baltimore County NAACP, of those figures. "We do get a lot of complaints from people who say they were stopped there from seemingly no apparent reason except to be harassed."

But George and ACLU officials say they have not received any recent complaints about the state police.

Pub Date: 11/16/96

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