The answer to the question, at least according to this Maryland Criminal Attorney, is, I don’t know yet but what I have seen over the past few weeks has sure made me suspicious. Racial Profiling Cases, also known as “Driving While Black” cases occur when police officers stop citizens based on innate characteristics such as race and age as well as factors such as clothing and the type of vehicle the person is driving. These stops typically occur on I-95 and involve young black males driving rental cars or cars with out of state plates, especially cars bearing Florida or New York plates.
As some may be aware, Maryland has a bit of a sordid past with this issue. In fact the State Police settled a lawsuit just last year that was filed on behalf of several men who claimed that they had been “profiled” after fighting the ACLU for 12 years. The State Police paid out over $400,000 and agreed to hire an independent monitor to make sure this behavior is not repeated. So why am I suspicious that the MTA Police are engaged in racial profiling so soon after the State Police settlement? Here is why:
In just the last two weeks I have been retained by three people whom I believe may have been racially profiled by the Maryland Transportation Authority Police. In two of the three cases the facts justifying the stop are almost identical and they are quite similar in the third:
Case 1: The defendant, an African American in his late 30’s. He was driving in a rental car with New York plates southbound on I-95 just north of the Harbor Tunnel. The officer claims that he was tailgating so he paced the claims in his report that he was driving 60mph in a 55mph zone. He pulled him over, arrested him for driving in violation of a rental agreement (a discretionary arrest situation) and recovered 28 grams of heroin in the search incident to the arrest. According to the defendant, he was neither tailgating nor speeding and he said the officer yanked him out of the car and searched him as soon as he pulled him over and only later determined that he was driving in violation of a rental agreement.
Case 2 The defendant is also an African American male who was traveling with his wife and another woman both of whom are also African American. He was also driving a rental car, this one with Georgia tags. The officer claims in his report that he noticed the car because it was “tailgating”. The officer claims that he then paced the vehicle and found it to be traveling 5 miles over the speed limit. Like in case number one, my client says that officer is not telling the truth. He claims that he was not tailgating or speeding and believes he was “profiled”. The police officer who pulled them over in this case was a K-9 officer so he had his dog scan the vehicle and received a hit. (hopefully we will be able to see this for ourselves as I have subpoenaed the video from the dashboard camera that all MTA cars are equipped with). He searched the car and found 1.25 Kilos of cocaine inside the suitcase of the back seat passenger.
Case 3 In this case my client lost his charging documents in Central Booking where he still sits so I can only go on what he told me was in the report and what he told me really happened. He says that the cop pulled him over for, you guessed it, “tailgating” and driving 6 or 7 miles over the speed limit. He also claims that the officer fabricated these traffic violations in order to pull him over. He is also African American. The only real differences between this case and the previous two are that he was not driving and the car was registered in Maryland and was not a rental.. In this case he was the front seat passenger and a young white female was driving, The police told them they were “suspicious” because their “stories didn’t mesh” regarding where they were coming from, how long they had been there and where they were going so they called in a K-9. The dog allegedly “hit” on the vehicle (again, hopefully we will be able to see this for ourselves as I have subpoenaed the video from the dashboard camera). They searched the car and found nothing but ultimately searched the client and found 200 grams of cocaine.
So again, the answer to the question of whether or not the MTA Police are racially profiling is, I don’t know yet and I am certainly not accusing them of doing so at this point. But it does seem suspicious that I, but one of many criminal attorneys in Baltimore, have been retained in 3 cases in just that last two weeks in which African American males were pulled over at least in part for tailgating, and then either K-9’s were brought in or the officer arrested where the arrest was discretionary. I have subpoenaed all statement of charges filed by these officers in the last six months to see if I can find a pattern. The MTA Police will, of course, file a motion to quash the subpoena but I believe I will ultimately get a judge force them to turn over at least some reports. Of course this will not tell me anything about all of the people who were pulled over and released after no contraband was found, but it is the best information that I can get on this issue. I will update this blog with the outcome.