HTTP/1.0 200 OK Content-Type: text/html Officials Had Profiling Data Before Shooting, Trooper
Pubdate: Tue, 20 Mar 2001
Source: New York Times (NY)
Copyright: 2001 The New York Times Company
Contact:  229 West 43rd Street, New York, NY 10036
Fax: (212) 556-3622
Author: Laura Mansnerus


TRENTON, March 19 -- Almost three years after the New Jersey Turnpike 
shooting that helped turn racial profiling into a national issue, 
high-stakes hearings began here today with testimony by state police 
officials who said the attorney general's office knew for years before the 
shooting that racial profiling was a common practice in traffic stops and 

Testifying in a crisp, military manner, Sgt. Thomas Gilbert of the New 
Jersey State Police, the trooper assigned since 1996 to gather data on 
arrests by race, told of regularly relaying the information, which he 
called "explosive," to the attorney general's office. He also said that 
many months before the shooting, he attended two meetings with top state 
officials, including former Attorney General Peter G. Verniero, where the 
still-unreleased numbers were discussed.

Mr. Verniero, who became a State Supreme Court justice by a single vote in 
the State Senate amid fierce debate over the profiling issue and his role 
in addressing it, is scheduled to be the final witness before the Senate 
Judiciary Committee next week.

At issue is not just when, how and why New Jersey came to single out black 
and Hispanic drivers in what has exploded into a major civil rights issue 
nationally. The focus is also on whether Mr. Verniero testified truthfully 
when he said at his confirmation hearings that he did not learn about the 
policy until after the shooting, in which troopers fired on four unarmed 
men, wounding three, in a Dodge Caravan that was stopped on April 23, 1998.

Another question is whether Mr. Verniero, over the objections of aides, 
made a politically motivated decision just weeks before his confirmation 
hearings to speed the indictments to deflect criticism that the Whitman 
administration was not addressing the profiling problems.

Although they will not testify, New Jersey's past and present governors 
will also have much on the line. For former Gov. Christie Whitman, the 
hearings will help determine how forcefully her administration reacted to 
an issue that may help to define her tenure. And Acting Gov. Donald T. 
DiFrancesco, who lobbied hard for Mr. Verniero's confirmation and has 
recently distanced himself from him, has inherited an issue that continues 
to be closely identified with his state. Mr. DiFrancesco is already in a 
rough fight for the Republican nomination for governor next fall.

The state police bore much of the blame when it was disclosed that troopers 
stopped a disproportionate number of black and Hispanic drivers and then 
searched their cars far more often than they did with white drivers. But 
today police officials lined up with an odd collection of New Jerseyans -- 
including Democratic legislators, civil rights leaders and the defense 
lawyers for the indicted troopers -- who have shifted the focus to Mr. 

When the committee's special counsel, Michael Chertoff, asked about the 
attorney general's statement that the state police had withheld 
information, David Blaker, now retired as a captain, said: "This is 
shocking. The state police doesn't operate this way. Nobody in the state 
police operates this way."

The Judiciary Committee members were sometimes acerbic in their questioning 
today as they referred to the absent main character in the hearings, which 
are scheduled to continue tomorrow and Tuesday and Wednesday next week.

One senator, for example, referred to Mr. Verniero's testimony at a 1999 
legislative hearing on racial profiling that he had only recently received 
data on searches conducted after traffic stops and "began having these 
issues crystallize in my mind."

This morning, after Sergeant Gilbert testified about a meeting in May 1997 
where, he said, the potentially damaging figures were discussed, Senator 
Raymond J. Zane, a Republican, asked, "Do you think it had crystallized by 

In the account of Sergeant Gilbert and other state police officials who 
testified today, that meeting was one of many occasions before the Turnpike 
shooting when statistical analyses of stops and searches were relayed to 
Mr. Verniero or to aides who reported directly to him.

By the time of the May meeting, officials in the attorney general's office 
and the state police, which the attorney general oversees, were responding 
to an inquiry by the United States Department of Justice into racial 
profiling in New Jersey.

Sergeant Gilbert and Mr. Blaker said that even though the numbers to be 
submitted to the Justice Department showed that an inordinately high 
percentage of minority motorists were subject to searches, Mr. Verniero 
said he would never negotiate a settlement with the department. In earlier 
accounts, Mr. Verniero was quoted as having said "They'd have to tie me to 
a train and drag me along the tracks."

Sergeant Gilbert was assigned to compile statistics in 1996, shortly after 
a trial court judge in Gloucester County found a pattern of racial 
profiling on the southern part of the Turnpike, based on a "stark" 
disparity in which black drivers were 4.85 times as likely as white drivers 
to be pulled over.

Mr. Verniero became attorney general just months later, and as prosecutors 
decided whether to pursue an appeal of the Gloucester County ruling, they 
asked the state police for more data.

By the end of 1996, Sergeant Gilbert was using a better measure of racial 
disparities: the percentage of each racial group who, after being stopped, 
were asked to consent to a search. Those data showed even greater 
disparities. "At this point," Sergeant Gilbert wrote to a superior, "we're 
in a very bad spot."

In December 1996, Mr. Verniero and aides went to Washington to meet with 
Justice Department officials, a meeting Mr. Gilbert learned about when he 
was quickly summoned to a meeting in Trenton on Christmas Eve. As he 
continued gathering statistics on searches, Sergeant Gilbert said, the data 
continued to show serious problems.

Police officials testified that their findings were given -- although not 
always in writing -- to a deputy attorney general, George Rover, and to 
others in the chain of command at the attorney general's office.

Although everyone charged with handling the profiling issue agonized over 
the process of extracting data and explaining it, the police officials made 
clear today under sometimes dismayed questioning by the legislators that in 
their meetings the principals never discussed the wider implications of 
racial profiling or ways of curing the problem.

Senator John A. Lynch, the senior Democrat on the panel, appeared 
exasperated when Sergeant Gilbert told him that only 25 percent to 30 
percent of searches yielded any contraband, and the senator asked whether 
anyone had suggested abandoning the "consent to search" requests altogether.

"How do you account for the fact that 80, 90 percent land on minorities?" 
Senator Lynch asked.

"I can't account for that, sir," Sergeant Gilbert replied.
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