Source:   AP 4/11/97

Judge: Traffic Searches Biased


BALTIMORE (AP)  A federal judge ruled Friday that a state police barrack
targets black motorists for searches along Interstate 95 in northeast
Maryland in a ``pattern and practice of discrimination.'' 

U.S. District Judge Catherine Blake ordered police to provide the American
Civil Liberties Union with more information about the searches and
disciplinary action against discriminatory troopers. 

But Ms. Blake, who is brokering a dispute over a civil lawsuit, did not fine
police $250,000 as the ACLU requested to encourage police to stop searching
the cars of blacks three to four times more often than whites along I95 in
Harford and Cecil counties. 

``The reasonable showing has clearly been made there was a pattern and
practice of discrimination,'' said Ms. Blake, who commended most of the 1,500
state police and added that problems appeared concentrated in the JFK
Memorial Highway Barrack in Perryville. 

Police, who say they base their searches on suspicious activities of
motorists rather than race, have 30 days to prepare information about who
gets searched and who gets disciplined. But the judge hasn't decided whether
to release confidential trooper personnel data to the ACLU. 

Using police figures from January 1995 to September 1996, the ACLU found
three of four motorists searched along I95 were black, though only one in
six drivers pulled over was black. One in five whites was searched, even
though threequarters of the drivers were white. 

An Associated Press computer analysis last year of car searches by a special
state police squad in Perryville found that black drivers were being stopped
and searched for drugs at least four times more often than whites on I95
between the Delaware border and the Baltimore County line. 

``Our primary message is this is wrong and the court's intervention is
vitally needed,'' said William J. Mertens, a Washington, D.C., lawyer for the

The case began when Robert L. Wilkins, 33, of Washington, D.C., was pulled
over in May 1992 and his car was searched by a drugsniffing dog. The Harvard
Universityeducated lawyer argued in his lawsuit that police pulled him over
because he is black. 

He settled the case in January 1995 with the agreement that state police
create a policy against stopping motorists based on race, and would
investigate and discipline troopers who discriminate. 

But the ACLU contends discriminatory searches continue. So the civil rights
group asked Ms. Blake to find state police in contempt for ignoring the terms
of the settlement. 

The judge refused because the two sides had reached the settlement without a
court order. 

Police argued that after pulling over motorists, searches only occur when the
driver acts suspiciously. Coming from New York and answering questions
evasively are among qualities that could warrant a search. 

Steven M. Sullivan, an assistant attorney general representing police, said
the 14 troopers named in the lawsuit found drugs in 32.5 percent of their
cases, compared to a 28 percent statewide average. 

``(Troopers) are doing good police work,'' he said.