State Will Pay $250,000 In Civil-Rights Case

Peter Lewis, Seattle Times, Feb. 8, 2006

The state has agreed to pay $250,000 to settle a civil-rights claim brought by a black woman who contended racial bias was behind a white State Patrol trooper’s decision to pull her over for an alleged traffic infraction.

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At trial, Villeneuve, 35, and Lacy, 49, offered distinctly different accounts of what happened when Villeneuve ordered Lacy to pull over June 11, 2002, on the Columbia Way onramp to northbound Interstate 5 in Seattle. Villeneuve claimed Lacy was driving in a restricted HOV lane.

Villeneuve contended that Lacy’s behavior—including repeatedly asking why she was stopped, along with her other “jittery” and “animated” mannerisms—was evidence of driving under the influence. Villeneuve’s suspicions deepened, the trooper testified, when she spotted what appeared to be rock cocaine in the console between the front seats of Lacy’s SUV, along with a razorblade.

After Lacy allegedly failed field sobriety tests, Villeneuve placed her under arrest for driving under the influence of drugs and for suspicion of possession of a controlled substance.

But another trooper with expertise in drug detection determined Lacy was not impaired. Lab tests later showed the “rock cocaine” was children’s cereal and Lacy had used the razorblade to scrape dried glue off her windshield so she could reattach the rearview mirror.

Lacy contended her nervousness was rooted in Villeneuve’s failure to explain why she had been stopped, and in fear and anxiety over her detention. Lacy conceded that Villeneuve never said anything overtly racial once she was stopped. But she testified the trooper issued “snappy orders,” used sarcasm and had a “rude tone.”

During the trial, Lacy’s attorneys presented data from a Washington State University study of State Patrol traffic stops as part of an effort to look for signs of racial profiling.

Drawing from the WSU data, University of Washington sociology professor Avery Mason Guest testified that of the 33 troopers who patrol the same area and have 500 or more traffic stops, Villeneuve stopped the highest percentage of African Americans. He said there was a statistically significant difference indicating that Villeneuve’s “disproportionate treatment of African Americans was not the product of chance but of design.”

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A Superior Court judge has halted criminal proceedings against a man accused of running a marijuana grow operation, saying police engaged in racial profiling by targeting the man because he was Vietnamese.

The investigation began when an Ontario Provincial Police officer went to the Barrie land registry office and looked up people with Vietnamese surnames who had recently purchased homes.

In doing so, police used race “as a proxy for criminal activity” and violated Van Trong Nguyen’s rights under the Charter of Rights and Freedoms, Justice Emile Kruzick said.

Nguyen was arrested Feb. 26, 2003, after police searched his Orangeville-area home and found 596 marijuana plants. He was charged with three forms of drug possession, theft of hydro and mischief to hydro wires.

In a Jan. 16 decision, Kruzick stayed all charges, ruling an individual’s right to security and liberty of the person is violated when police use racial profiling as the sole basis for an investigation.

Admitting evidence police obtained illegally by violating the Charter would bring the administration of justice into disrepute, he said.

“The officer engaged in racial profiling when he targeted the applicant’s residence as (a) possible marijuana grow operation,” Kruzick said. “His only reason for investigating Mr. Nguyen is that he was living in the home of his wife, Ms Do, and they were Vietnamese. It is a stereotypical assumption that because some grow operations have been run by East Asians, that anyone purchasing a new home who is Vietnamese must be conducting a grow operation.”

The officer testified that he was searching only for names of people who had been previously investigated in connection with marijuana grow operations. However, Nguyen and his wife, Thi Thanh Do, in whose name the house was registered, had no known ties to any marijuana grow operation and no criminal records, the judge said.

The officer “consciously or unconsciously” used race as a sign of criminal activity, he said.

Richard O’Brien, Nyugen’s lawyer, said he believes it is the first time an Ontario court has found that police engaged in racial profiling while investigating alleged marijuana grow houses.

In another case last year involving a search of land registry records, a Superior Court judge concluded race was not the basis for the investigation.

In Nguyen’s case, the officer obtained 17 names from the land registry office on June 11, 2002. All were Vietnamese.

The officer testified that he kept watch on Nguyen’s property in East Luther Township for the next eight months and concluded it was a likely marijuana grow operation.

Toronto criminal lawyer Steven Skurka believes Kruzick’s ruling was the first time an Ontario court had implicated police in racial profiling outside of the black community.

Skurka represented Decovan “Dee” Brown, the former Toronto Raptor at the centre of a previous racial-profiling case. The Ontario Court of Appeal ruled in 2003 that racial profiling does exist and may have been behind an officer’s decision to stop Brown on the Don Valley Parkway in 1999.

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