Group ponders lawsuit over Fayetteville consent search ban
Posted January 30, 2012
Fayetteville, N.C. — The North Carolina Police Benevolent Association said Monday that it's considering litigation against the city of Fayetteville over a temporary freeze on police consent searches while a consultant group investigates claims of racial profiling.
John Midgette, the police group's executive director, said the moratorium is unlawful.
"(City Council) voted in direct contradiction to the rule of law," he said.
Consent searches, which allow officers to ask a driver's permission to search a vehicle without establishing probable cause, is an important law enforcement tool, Midgette said.
Fayetteville Police Chief Tom Bergamine has repeatedly defended the searches and denied that officers are profiling based on race.
Whether or not the practice should be given a second look, Midgette argues, a local government simply cannot step in and overrule state law.
Midgette said he has tried to sit down with city leaders to discuss the issue, but they have refused. If they won't come to the table, Midgette said, he'll consider filing a lawsuit.
"We would rather talk with them in an open forum, rather than a sworn deposition," he said, adding that he's confident the group would win in court.
"We feel we are on very solid legal ground," Midgette said.
Before resorting to legal measures, Midgette said the group is working with the Attorney General to get the moratorium overturned and has filed an ethics complaint against the council.
No City Council member could be reached for comment Monday and Mayor Tony Chavonne declined to comment.
Chavonne did say last week, however, that he supports the council's decision to freeze searches even if it's illegal.
"I personally don't mind being a legal test case if we are a legal test case for what's right," he said.
Council members voted 8-2 last week in favor of putting the searches on hold for 120 days. During the search freeze, the National Organization of Black Law Enforcement Executives will look into whether the searches are racially motivated.
The organization, which will receive $30,000 for its consultation and review, will present its findings before city leaders decide whether the practice should be reinstated.
The decision comes after an analysis of traffic stops over the past two years by The Fayetteville Observer showed that black drivers accounted for three out of every four searches.