The United States Department of Justice filed a civil rights lawsuit against Alamance County Sheriff Terry Johnson Thursday, after he was faced with allegations of racial profiling and discrimination.
The lawsuit claims that Johnson has violated the Fourth and Fourteenth Amendments and Section 14141 of the Violent Crime Control and Law Enforcement Act of 1994, which guard against unreasonable search and seizure and guarantee due process.
The DOJ has investigated the Sheriff's Office since 2009, and on Sept. 18 released an 11-page report detailing alleged discrimination against the county's Latino residents.
According to the report and the lawsuit, Johnson has targeted Latinos, arrested them on minor charges that typically result in a warning and referred to them as "taco eaters" and other racial slurs.
The Sheriff's Office continues to deny the charges. In September, Randy Jones, spokesman for the Sheriff, called the investigation an "embarrassment" and said the report was not based in facts.
An ELN investigation found that from January 2009 to July 2012, Alamance County police stopped 1450 Latinos. Of those stopped 14 percent were arrested--an arrest rate more than twice the 6.2 percent arrest rate of non-Latinos stopped.
A DOJ statistical study found that Latino drivers are between 4 and 10 times more likely to be stopped than a non-Latino by an Alamance County Sheriff's Deputy.
The Sheriff's Office released a press release in response to the lawsuit in which they deny any wrongdoing.
"The Alamance County Sheriff's Office does not engage in profiling Spanish-speaking persons. The Sheriff will be filing a formal response with the court," the release stated.
Marty Rosenbluth, an attorney and Executive Director of the N. C. Immigration Rights Project, hopes that Johnson will now voluntarily comply with the DOJ "to avoid a lengthy and expensive trial."
"Just from my clients alone I think it is abundantly clear that Sheriff Johnson has been racially profiling," Rosenbluth said. "The easiest thing he can do now is just stop."
If Johnson is found to be guilty, Rosenbluth said the Federal government could then force compliance by his office. This can include fines, an "overseer" or other methods.
"I think everybody is hoping that the Sheriff sees the writing on the wall and voluntarily complies now," Rosenbluth said.