Karen Lee Ziner, Providence Journal, August 19, 2006
The Rhode Island State Police will review a trooper’s actions during a July 11 traffic stop on Route 95 in Richmond, when he detained 14 people who he suspected were in the country illegally, a state police spokesman said.
The internal investigation stems from a complaint the Rhode Island Affiliate of the American Civil Liberties Union filed this week, on behalf of 11 of the 14 people involved, said Maj. Steven O’Donnell.
The ACLU took the case after the driver and several passengers alleged during a Providence news conference last month that Trooper Thomas Chabot overstepped his authority by taking immigration enforcement into his own hands.
They also alleged that Chabot threatened to shoot anyone who tried to escape the van that morning as it was escorted to the Bureau of Immigrations and Customs Enforcement office in Providence.
The traffic stop occurred at 6:30 a.m. near Exit 4 south, where Chabot was posted at a speed checkpoint. Chabot’s report states that he pulled the van’s driver over for failing to signal a lane change.
After the driver provided a license and ID, Chabot asked the passengers for identification, his report states. When only a few could do so, he then “asked if any of them had immigration credentials proving their U.S. citizenship.”
None did. Chabot contacted ICE authorities, and he and another trooper escorted the van to the ICE office on Dyer Avenue in Providence. The 14 were found to be in the country illegally, and they now face deportation.
Astrid and Wendy Cabrera, the complainants seeking the investigation, allege racial profiling by Chabot, whom they identify as “Trooper 19.”
“We believe that our van was pulled over, at least in part, because of our ethnicity. As passengers, we also object that we were required to provide identification and asked about our immigration status, even though we had done nothing wrong. We do not think the trooper had any right to force us to go to ICE headquarters. We believe we were treated unfairly.”
The Cabreras allege that Chabot told the driver he was responsible for making sure no one left the van on its way to ICE headquarters in Providence, “and that if anyone tried to escape, they would be shot at.”
The ACLU is seeking the internal review “because we find the incident as described in the complaint quite troubling,” said Steven Brown, executive director. Brown has also called the traffic stop “an egregious case of racial profiling, from beginning to end.”
The complaint also seeks clarification of state police policies, particularly with regard to how that department cooperates or collaborates with the Bureau of Immigration and Customs Enforcement.
O’Donnell said yesterday that a preliminary review of the matter did not corroborate the Cabreras’ account of the incident, particularly with regard to Chabot’s alleged threat to shoot anyone who tried to escape the van.