ACLU of NJ Wins $775,000 for Victims of Racial Profiling by State Troopers

Affiliate: ACLU of New Jersey
January 13, 2003 12:00 am

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NEWARK — The State of New Jersey has agreed to pay more than $775,000 to motorists who were victims of racial profiling to settle lawsuits brought by the American Civil Liberties Union of New Jersey, the group announced at a news conference today.

“In order to remove the stain of racial profiling, it is necessary for the State of New Jersey to compensate those victimized, and to ensure that such practices do not occur in the future,” said Deborah Jacobs, Executive Director of the ACLU of New Jersey, which became involved in Morka v. State of New Jersey in 1999.

“The State has now, at least for the individuals in the present case, provided some compensation, but we also need to see much more in the way of reform – data collection, external oversight, more and better training, diversity recruitment, competitive pay, accreditation of police departments, and other steps to promote professional conduct by police.”

The ACLU brought the lawsuits on behalf of 12 motorists who were targeted for traffic stops based on their skin color. The ACLU will not receive any of the $775,370 awarded to the victims of racial profiling.

“These people could be our friends, neighbors and family members,” said Neil Mullin, a cooperating attorney with the ACLU of New Jersey. “The fact that they were singled out for the indignity of roadside questioning or searches based on their skin color should shock and horrify every freedom-loving American.”

Two of the victims, Laila Maher and Felix Morka, will receive $200,000 each (half coming from the state and half from the Turnpike Authority).

In January 1996, Maher, an Egyptian American woman, and her co-worker Morka, a Nigerian national, who at the time headed the International Human Rights Law Group’s work on Africa, were driving along the New Jersey Turnpike, when they were pulled over to the side of the highway by the New Jersey State Police.

During the traffic stop one of the officers began to strangle Morka and slam him repeatedly against his steering wheel. The other officer assaulted Maher by holding a gun to her head, twisting her arm behind her back, and throwing her against the car.

When Maher and Morka tried to file a formal complaint, New Jersey police were uncooperative. At first they were denied the proper forms to file a complaint, and later the police failed to complete an investigation of their complaint.

Another victim of police profiling, Dr. Elmo Randolph, will receive $75,000. Randolph is a West Orange dentist who drives a luxury car and has been stopped approximately 100 times without ever receiving a ticket. On numerous occasions, Dr. Randolph has been subjected to searches of his car and interrogations about his profession and how and where he bought his car. “Police have harassed African Americans and other minorities on New Jersey’s highways for years, and it has created a climate where innocent people are afraid of police,” said Randolph, “Now, at least some of the victims will receive deserved compensation.”

Another ACLU client, Herbert Morton, will receive $50,000. Morton was pulled over by police for speeding, despite the fact that his cruise control was set at 55 mph. When he questioned the trooper about his speed, he was rebuffed and forced to get out of his vehicle. Morton was ultimately allowed to leave without being issued a ticket. The officer failed to make any record of the stop and therefore, in pursuing his complaint with the police, Morton had to identify the officer who stopped him through a photo line-up.

The remaining eight plaintiffs will share $250,370.

In April 1999, then-Attorney General Peter Verniero admitted that citizens were stopped and/or searched on the New Jersey Turnpike based on the color of their skin. The actions of troopers brought about a federal lawsuit against the state based upon civil rights violations. As a result of that lawsuit, police were required to adopt some reforms; yet minorities were still being stopped at vastly higher rates than white drivers despite the fact that searches of minorities are less likely to reveal evidence of a crime than searches of white drivers.

In 2001, in accepting a plea bargain for the shooting of minority motorists in 2001, two troopers Hogan and Kenna acknowledged that racial profiling was taught by the State Police, that it was encouraged by supervisors, and that they and others tried to cover up the fact of racial profiling by providing false stop data. Two months later, the New Jersey Supreme Court, noting “widespread abuse of our existing laws,” outlawed “consent searches” where no reasonable suspicion exists.

The settlement of Morka follows on the heels of the resolution of two other racial profiling suits, one in Maryland and one concerning the New Jersey Turnpike — see /PolicePractices/PolicePractices.cfm?ID=10682&c=118

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