FEBRUARY 10, 2010
A state trooper sued for racial profiling after detaining a group of illegal aliens during a traffic stop has been exonerated by a federal appeals court that has ruled the officer acted appropriately.
The incident occurred three years ago in Rhode Island when the trooper (Thomas Chabot) pulled over a van on Richmond’s Route 95 for a traffic violation. The officer followed department procedure by asking the driver as well as the passengers in the van for identification. When the driver and more than a dozen passengers could not provide valid identification Chabot contacted Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) officials.
Outrage ensued among pro immigrant, civil rights groups that were quick to accuse the trooper of “egregious racial profiling” and of overstepping his authority by taking immigration enforcement into his own hands. A federal lawsuit accused Chabot of violating the illegal immigrants’ constitutional protection against unreasonable search and seizure and the officer was investigated by the state.
A federal judge in Rhode Island dismissed the lawsuit in 2008, ruling that Chabot acted reasonably and with legal justification in all of his actions. The illegal immigrants, all from Guatemala, appealed to the 1st U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals and this week a three-judge panel determined that the trooper had probable cause to ask the driver and passengers about their immigration status.
Chabot had reason to question the illegal immigrants and his inquiries amounted to “mere police questioning,” according to the 1st Circuit’s ruling. Furthermore, the officer’s pat-down searches of the van’s driver were reasonable due to the safety concerns presented by the large group of unidentified people, the ruling also says.
Though brazen, this case is hardly unique. Law enforcement officers around the country are increasingly being sued for violating the constitutional rights of illegal immigrants. In the last few months alone legal action has been taken against an Ohio sheriff deputy who helped deport a Mexican with false identification cards, a Maryland officer who arrested an illegal Salvadoran woman and federal agents who apprehended a group of illegal aliens in a Connecticut immigration raid.
Just last week a group of undocumented day laborers sued a southern California city (Costa Mesa) for banning them from seeking work on public streets. The lawsuit actually stems from the arrest by local police of a dozen illegal alien day laborers who violated the city’s anti-solicitation ordinance.
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