Rhode Island Judge Rejects Police Department's Attempt to Throw Out ACLU Racial Profiling Lawsuit

August 10, 2004 12:00 am

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PROVIDENCE, RI — A federal judge today rejected attempts by the Scituate Police Department to dismiss a racial profiling lawsuit filed by the American Civil Liberties Union of Rhode Island on behalf of a Pawtucket resident, who is of Cape Verdean descent.

The lawsuit charges that Jean Philippe Barros’ rights to be free from unreasonable searches and seizures and to equal protection of the laws were violated when a Scituate patrolman stopped him for an alleged driving violation.

“I am very pleased that the court recognized that there are serious questions as to whether Mr. Barros was illegally stopped by the Scituate police in violation of his right to equal protection of the laws,” said ACLU volunteer attorney Thomas G. Briody. “Black men driving in Rhode Island should not have to fear being stopped by police simply because of the color of their skin.”

According to the lawsuit, which was filed in January 2003, Scituate police officer Kevin Pendergast followed Barros in his car for over a mile and a half before pulling him over for not having a Rhode Island inspection sticker. The car, which belonged to Barros’ sister, actually had Missouri license plates. When Barros asked the officer if he was stopped because of his race, the officer, even while acknowledging he had no basis for pulling Barros over, demanded to see Barros’ license, registration and proof of insurance. Barros immediately produced his license but had to call his sister to locate the registration and insurance. Although he was able to find both documents while the officer was still there, Pendergast still gave Barros a ticket for driving without registration or proof of insurance. Both of the charges were later dismissed in court.

“The fact pattern in this case is all too familiar to people in the minority community, as was the police department’s response,” said Steven Brown, Executive Director of the ACLU of Rhode Island. “Mr. Barros was stopped for no legitimate reason. Instead of receiving an apology from the officer, he received a ticket. Instead of receiving an apology from the police department, he was accused of being overly sensitive. I am very pleased that the court has ruled that there is enough evidence for this case to move forward.”

In the written opinion filed today, U.S. District Judge Mary Lisi rejected the town’s motion to dismiss the illegal search and racial profiling claims. The judge noted that the officer “gives no explanation as to why, after following Barros for over a mile and a half, he did not realize that Barros was operating a vehicle which was registered in Missouri and therefore was not required to have a Rhode Island inspection sticker.” The judge concluded that, “a reasonable jury could infer from the facts that Pendergast’s stop of Barros was merely pretextual and that Pendergast’s actions were racially motivated.”

Barros said that he filed the lawsuit so that future generations will not be subject to racial profiling.

“I feel strongly about pursuing this issue because I have two sons that I love dearly, and whom I would hate to see subjected to the same pain and injustice that I endured at the hands of those we pay to protect and serve us,” said Barros.

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