Judge throws out RI racial profiling suit
By Hilary Russ
The Associated Press, December 31, 2008
Providence (AP) — A federal judge has dismissed a lawsuit over a highway traffic stop of Guatemalan nationals that civil rights groups said was unconstitutional and an example of racial profiling.
The state chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union said it will appeal Tuesday's decision from U.S. District Judge Mary Lisi.
The traffic stop led to deportation orders against the illegal Guatemalan immigrants and prompted legislators to introduce an anti-racial profiling bill in 2007, though that bill died in committee.
In July 2006, Rhode Island state trooper Thomas Chabot stopped a van carrying more than a dozen Guatemalan nationals on Interstate 95 for changing lanes without signaling.
Though driver Carlos Tamup had a valid driver's license and registration and no criminal record, Chabot patted him down. Chabot asked for identification from his passengers, whom Tamup was taking to work in Westerly.
When some of them couldn't produce identification, Chabot asked them for proof of U.S. citizenship.
Troopers then escorted the van to a federal Immigration and Customs Enforcement office in Providence, where they were again briefly detained.
The ACLU suit demanded punitive and compensatory damages as well as declaratory judgment that the immigrants' constitutional rights were violated.
In her decision, Lisi said Chabot was justified in asking the Guatemalans for identification paperwork and immigration documents. She also said the ACLU's claim of racial profiling was unclear and not supported, and she found no 'evidence of intentional race-based discrimination.'
Steve Brown, executive director of the Rhode Island ACLU, said Lisi's decision that Chabot did not violate a state law against racial profiling was 'particularly startling.'
'This was a classic case of racial profiling,' he said in a statement Wednesday. 'The driver's license and registration were in perfect order, so the continued interrogation of the passengers was clearly based solely on their ethnicity.'
Then-State Police Superintendent Steven M. Pare, who was also named in the law suit, has said Chabot acted 'professionally and appropriately' during the stop, and an internal probe cleared Chabot of any wrongdoing.
Attorney General Patrick Lynch said in a statement Wednesday that Chabot only escorted the van to ICE's office after seeking advice from the federal immigration agency.
'While the law enforcement community is sensitive to and must remain sensitive to immigration issues, they must also be able to do their jobs,' Lynch said. 'This ruling affirms that this case was a proper law enforcement action by a well-trained State Trooper.'