Sunday, September 23, 2012
North Carolina's Alamance County Sheriff Terry S. Johnson Standing Strong Against Federal Civil Rights Terrorism, Rejects DOJ Charges Of Racism Against Latinos
On September 18th, 2012, the Department of Justice's Civil Rights Division released an 11-page report which accuses Alamance County Sheriff Terry S. Johnson and his agency of routinely violating the civil rights of Latinos in his county. In the course of an investigation which began in June 2010, lawyers for the DOJ determined that Johnson and his deputies illegally targeted, stopped, detained and arrested Latinos without probable cause with the aim of boosting deportations. The DOJ also recommended a list of steps to end discrimination by the department, including remedial training, new internal procedures for recognizing and investigating civil rights violations and community outreach.
The DOJ also claimed that Sheriff Johnson tried to stonewall their probe, ordering his staff to speak with federal investigators only with his department's lawyer present. The federal agency filed a complaint in U.S. District Court last year seeking to compel interviews without the sheriff's lawyer present, saying staff members had expressed concern Johnson or others would retaliate against them if they talked. That complaint became redundant after the new report was issued.
Sheriff Johnson has until September 30th to decide if he will seek a negotiated resolution with the DOJ, who wants him to sign the typical consent decree that would effectively federalize the sheriff's department for an indefinite period. If Sheriff Johnson fails to reach a negotiated settlement, federal officials suggested they would sue him. In the event of a successful federal suit, a court could impose sanctions on the department and hold the sheriff in contempt of court if he fails to comply. The federal government could also cut federal funding for county programs.
In his responses to multiple media sources, Sheriff Johnson suggested that the federal probe was a political attack by the Obama Administration. He denied his department has ever discriminated against Spanish-speaking persons. Chuck Kitchen, Johnson's attorney, called the prospects for a negotiated settlement "unlikely", suggesting that the federal report is little more than unfounded allegations with no evidence or named witnesses to back it up. Sheriff Johnson also asserted that he and his staff had cooperated fully with DOJ, providing tens of thousands of pages of documents. "The only thing we have refused to do is to deprive our deputies of their constitutional right to have an attorney present during interrogation by the DOJ," Johnson said.
The 11-page DOJ report spells out discriminatory practices, discriminatory biases, and departures from policing standards and procedures. Among some of the more prominent allegations:
-- Sheriff Johnson allegedly referred to Latinos as "taco eaters" who were prone to drinking, drug dealing and pedophilia. However, a spokesman for the sheriff, Randy Jones, denied the sheriff had ever used the term "taco eaters". He conceded the rest of the 2007 quote was accurate, but said it was made in the context of a local prostitution bust involving underage girls.
-- The Sheriff's Department was allegedly 10 times more likely to stop Latino drivers than non-Latinos, according the federal review of the department's traffic stop records. However, since illegal immigrants are much more likely to be Latino that White because of Mexico's proximity to the U.S., this policy would only make sense.
-- Sheriff Johnson allegedly ordered special roadblocks in neighborhoods were Latinos live, during which those with brown skin were stopped while whites were waved through. Once again, illegal immigrants are much more likely to be Latino than White.
-- Sheriff Johnson allegedly told his supervisors that if they stop a Mexican, arrest him rather than cite him.
The reason for the emphasis on illegal immigrants is because Alamance County was one of six North Carolina counties participating in the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement's 287(g) program, which trained local law enforcement officers to perform immigration checks. Enacted under the administration of President George W. Bush, the program is now being phased out by ICE after numerous complaints of racial profiling.
Will Sheriff Johnson stand firm and refused to roll over for the DOJ, or will he become another Trent Lott who grovels apologies and begs for Scooby snacks? Chances are good that he'll stand firm, because he has solid community support behind him. After a closed session meeting to discuss the federal report on Monday September 17th, members of the Republican-dominated county board of commissioners had nothing but praise for the embattled sheriff. "I think he has done a fantastic job for the county," Commission Vice-Chair Bill Lashley told a reporter for the Burlington Times-News. "He is the best sheriff we've had."