Arizona Department of Public Safety hit by new racial profile ruling
Larry Hendricks, Arizona Daily Sun, Jan. 18
The Arizona Department of Public Safety has been dealt another blow by the courts in the organization’s continuing battle to crack down on drug trafficking through Coconino County and Flagstaff.
On Tuesday, a federal magistrate judge in Minnesota suppressed evidence — five kilograms of cocaine — seized during a traffic stop on Interstate 40 near Flagstaff, because, the judge stated, the DPS officer who made the stop did so because the driver and passengers were black, then falsified a document to hide his action.
“We are shocked and surprised,” said Officer Steve Shroufe, acting as spokesperson on behalf of DPS. “An appeal is being pursued.”
DPS has consistently maintained that it does not make traffic stops in search of drugs based on race, and it even has a policy in place to prohibit the practice.
On June 10, 2002, Officer Jay Hutton was parked at a spot on I-40 checking eastbound traffic for speeders. Hutton stated that he clocked a black Suburban doing 75 in a 65 mph zone. He pulled the Suburban over. The driver was black. The passenger and owner of the vehicle, Robert Williams, also black, gave Hutton consent to search.
Hutton found five kilos of cocaine, and Williams was arrested.
The case was filed in federal court in Minnesota, where Williams is from. U.S. Magistrate Judge Franklin Noel heard the case.
Williams’ attorney, Robert Miller, said he enlisted the aid of Flagstaff attorney Lee Phillips, who has been attempting to establish unsuccessfully for more than three years that DPS officers make traffic stops in search of drugs based on race.
In November 2003, Phillips requested and received approximately 300,000 documents compiled by DPS itself — information about traffic stops and searches — made by DPS officers in the entire state from January through August of 2003.
Fred Solop, director of the Northern Arizona University Social Research Laboratory, made a preliminary analysis of the new data for stops and searches on I-40 in Coconino County for Williams’ case in Minnesota.
The stop and search data was compared with a violator study conducted by Solop. The violator study determined the racial and ethnic composition of people who were observed by student researchers breaking traffic laws during a series of field surveys one summer along I-40.