ACLU accuses state police of violating bias settlement Federal judge urged to review compliance

December 13, 1997|By Ivan Penn | Ivan Penn,SUN STAFF

Citing two affidavits from African-American motorists who say they were harassed by state troopers, the American Civil Liberties Union said yesterday that the Maryland State Police are violating a settlement agreement that prohibits traffic stops based solely on race.

William J. Mertens, a lawyer for the ACLU, is urging U.S. District Judge Catherine C. Blake to put the state police force on trial for violating a 1995 court agreement. The state paid $12,500 each to four black plaintiffs who alleged discrimination and agreed to institute a policy of nondiscrimination in traffic stops under the settlement.

"There is a pattern of discrimination that is continuing," Mertens said during a hearing in U.S. District Court in Baltimore yesterday. "This should not happen. This is America in 1997."

Mertens alleged that state police have failed to supply the court with complete statistics about traffic stops and vehicle searches, which he said could help determine whether there are problems.

XTC The state denies that state police are violating the agreement. State police officials said they have developed policies prohibiting discrimination in traffic stops and have informed the 1,600 troopers of those regulations.

"My troopers are doing a great job," Col. David B. Mitchell, the state police superintendent, said in an interview after the hearing. "If there are allegations of wrongdoing, I want to investigate them. I care very much about this."

Mitchell said one of the alleged incidents Mertens referred to is under investigation. The department has investigated two other complaints and decided they were unfounded, he said.

Blake plans to meet with lawyers in the case Tuesday to discuss whether to proceed with a hearing scheduled for March on the state's motion for dismissal of the ACLU's suit alleging violation of the 1995 agreement.

The alleged incidents Mertens described in court yesterday were the result of stops by officers from the JFK Memorial Highway barracks, which has been at the center of the 5-year-old controversy. That barracks, which has been run during the past 12 months by Lt. Keven L. Gray -- patrols Interstate 95 from Baltimore through Baltimore, Harford and Cecil counties to the Delaware line.

In one affidavit, Johnston E. Williams of Upper Darby, Pa., alleged that a state trooper pulled him over on his way from

Hyattsville to Philadelphia Aug. 14 and called him a Jamaican drug dealer.

Williams told the trooper that he was from Liberia, West Africa and was not speeding. Then the officer said: "All foreigners, especially Africans, are troublemakers," the affidavit states.

Williams was not cited for a drug violation but was issued a speeding ticket and a citation for refusing to sign the speeding ticket, according to the affidavit.

In the second case, Gary D. Rodwell, 42, of Philadelphia was stopped on his way to Baltimore in January 1996. Rodwell said in an affidavit that the trooper didn't stop him for any violation but told him he looked like a drug dealer.

Rodwell, director of a nonprofit group in Philadelphia, refused to consent to a car search, and the trooper called for a police dog unit, according to the affidavit. No illegal drugs or contraband were found, the affidavit stated.

Mitchell said he was unaware of that incident.

Pub Date: 12/13/97

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