Lawsuit claiming racial profiling filed against Durham police
Posted April 29, 2015
Durham, N.C. — Durham Police Chief Jose Lopez, eight Durham police officers and the City of Durham were named in a lawsuit filed Wednesday by a man claiming he was racially profiled by police.
The claim comes nearly a year after a city report concluded that racial bias and profiling exists within the Durham Police Department.
The lawsuit was filed by the North Carolina Central University School of Law’s Civil Litigation Clinic on behalf of Keith Ragland, a 44-year-old African-American man with a physical disability. Ragland claims officers searched him and his vehicle in 2012 without his consent and without probable cause.
A Durham police internal investigation supported his claim, said the lawsuit, which added that Ragland was not arrested or charged with a crime.
“Plaintiff has suffered, and is continuing to suffer, from severe fear and anxiety of law enforcement, and crowds of people that might attract law enforcement,” the suit said. “As a result of feeling helpless, victimized, and humiliated, plaintiff no longer feels comfortable leaving his house alone.”
Ragland is asking for unspecified financial damages, for the department to change how it conducts traffic stops, to appoint a “special master” to oversee changes in police procedures, and to implement changes including eliminating “suspicionless” traffic stops and requiring officers to document in writing the purpose of their traffic stop before searching a vehicle.
Researching the racial breakdown of those stopped by the named officers is why the clinic waited to file the suit, said Scott Holmes, the clinic’s supervising attorney.
“In addition to the search, we also raised racial profiling claims against the city and that has required a great deal of research and investigation,” he said.
Durham police declined to comment on the lawsuit.
Obtaining written consent for police searches was one of 34 recommendations in a May 2014 report by the city’s Human Relations Commission that found racial bias and profiling exists within the department.
In a 131-page response to the recommendations, city officials said the department has forms for consent searches, but they’re used at the officer’s discretion.
“The department is working to make them mandatory for all consent searches of premises, dwellings or other property,” the city said. “No search will be conducted if a person refuses to sign. But the department disagrees that written consent should be required in all circumstances.”
The police department said it doesn't deny that racial bias might exist among some officers, but denies "the existence of any pattern, practice, culture or tolerance for bias-based policing."
“There is as much racial bias in the police department as there is in any organization," Lopez, the police chief, said in May. "If we discover it, we work to address it."