Burlington, N.C. — Allegations of racial profiling by the Alamance County Sheriff's Office have divided the county, pitting local law enforcement against Latino residents and the federal government.
After years of questions about traffic stops in Alamance County, the U.S. Department of Justice last week issued a blistering analysis of the sheriff's office's tactics.
DOJ investigators said that their two-year investigation found that deputies targeted Latinos in order to boost deportations through the federal 287 (g) program, which trains local law enforcement officers to perform immigration checks. Latino drivers were up to 10 times more likely to be pulled over than other drivers, according to the report.
"Discriminatory activities are intentional and motivated by the sheriff's prejudices against Latinos," the report stated.
At a news conference Friday in Burlington, one woman described how she was treated rudely by a deputy despite being a citizen, and another woman complained of her treatment by local police for driving without a license.
"I have heard hundreds of stories," said Rev. Rosanna Panizo, who works with local Latino residents.
"The fact that people are getting into deportation proceedings after getting picked up for minor traffic stops is a violation of this policy," immigration attorney Marty Rosenbluth said.
Sheriff Terry Johnson is fighting the profiling accusation, which could lead to the federal government suing Alamance County.
"We have never discriminated against Spanish-speaking persons in any way, shape or form," Johnson said in a news conference last week.
Attorney S.C. Kitchen blasted the DOJ report on Wednesday, saying it was "full of factual inaccuracies and devoid of specifics." It was akin to indicting the sheriff on rumors and gossip, he said.
Kitchen suggested that the probe was a political attack against Johnson, a Republican first elected in 2002, by the Obama Administration, the American Civil Liberties Union and a local liberal group.
Johnson has said that his deputies won't follow DOJ recommendations to address profiling.
The Department of Homeland Security announced this year that it is ending the 287 (g) program after widespread complaints of racial profiling.
In addition to the Alamance County Sheriff's Office, Durham police and sheriff's offices in Wake, Cabarrus, Gaston, Henderson, and Mecklenburg counties were among the 64 law enforcement agencies in 24 states that participated in the program.