Saturday, May 30, 2009

The Kansas Human Rights Commission issues "Probable Cause" determinations in 2 Kansas Racial Profiling Cases

The Kansas Human Rights Commission (KHRC) has issued findings of Probable Cause in two recent Racial Profiling cases. The most recent was a case involving the Kansas Highway Patrol.

The complainant in this case was driving a late model SUV which had been modified with a tinted cover placed over the headlights. The Officers in the case spotted the driver and turned around to follow. The complainant, after seeing the officers turn around and visually seeing the expression on the face of one of the officers, pulled over to the side of the road voluntarily, without lights, sirens, and without having been ordered to do so. The complainant, who was black, questioned the officer as to why he had been stopped and he was told that he was stopped because he had a film over his headlights which was a violation of Kansas Statute. The driver was then ticketed for the infraction.

The driver asked the Officer for his name and badge number, and was told that it would appear on the citation. The badge number did appear on the  citation, however the Officer's name did not.

Upon investigation from the KHRC, it was learned that less than 35 minutes later, the same Officers were involved with another traffic stop, this time of a white motorist with the same type tinted cover placed over their headlights. And while the two drivers were similarly situated, the officers simply asked the white motorist to remove their headlight covers and allowed him to continue with a verbal warning.

The KHRC's report closes by saying, "The end result is that two similarly situated drivers, one African American and one Caucasian, who violated the same traffic law only minutes apart, received disparate treatment as evidenced by one receiving a ticket and one receiving a warning from the same officer."

The second case involved a driver in Junction City Kansas who was stopped and ticketed for "failure to signal 100 yards before exiting a highway." The driver, who is a Hospice Chaplin, was driving a late model Cadillac with California plates. The car belonged to his Uncle, who was a retired 33-year veteran of the California Sheriff's Department, and the complainant was returning home from his Uncle's funeral.

The Officer followed the complainant for several miles during which time he ran a National Crime Center Information Check (or NCIC) Once the check had come back clear, the Officer continued to follow the vehicle until finally pulling him over for an alleged failure to signal 100 feet prior to exiting.

During the subsequent KHRC investigation, the respondent stated that the real reason for the stop was because the vehicle had California Plates. The Respondent stated that due to the amount of Drug Traffic on Interstate 70, officers had been instructed to pay special attention to out-of-state plates.

As a part of the investigation, the KHRC requested validation of the Police Department's directive to Officers that they should stop or investigate vehicles with out-of-state plates. The Department provided no evidence of any statistical information or training modules that had been compiled or shared with Officers, and produced no documentation of policies or directives for officers to stop or investigate vehicles with out-of-state plates.

The KHRC also requested to view the dash camera recording of the stop. The Department advised that since there was no citation issued, they disposed of the video. In it's place, the Officer wrote a narrative of the stop after the complaint was filed and the narrative was maintained.

When asked during the course of the investigation, the Officer advised the KHRC that he did not follow every vehicle with California plates.

The KHRC's report concludes with the statement: "Lacking tangible evidence or reliable training to base what is a very non-specific practice of stopping some California cars for interdiction, we must consider the contention by the Complainant that his race was a factor in the officer's decision to stop that particular car from California. While "sole factor" is a very high standard to attain, our function  as defined by the KSA 22-4611 and KHRC policy is to determine if there is "Probable Cause" to believe that the officer based his decision to stop this particular car from California based solely on the race of the occupants. We do that in this case."

~~~

The Wichita Branch NAACP worked in concert with Citizen's for Equal Law Enforcement and Senator Donald Betts to draft and lobby for passage of the Kansas Racial Profiling act. We currently serve as a point of intake for Racial profiling complaints filed under the statute and we continuously monitor all Racial Profiling cases filed throughout the State. We are currently assisting one of the aforementioned complainants in their efforts to obtain legal counsel. 

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