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Vermont Sheriff Department Pays To Settle Instance Of Discrimination

The Grand Isle County Sheriff's Department recently paid a nearly $30,000 payment to settle an instance involving illegal discrimination against a Mexican national working in Vermont.

The Vermont Human Right’s Commission found that Sergeant Blake Allen had illegally detained a passenger in a car after a routine speeding traffic stop chiefly because of his nationality and skin color.

The sergeant detained the driver and the passenger, Lorenzo Alcudia, for nearly an hour while he called Border Patrol, despite finding no sufficient evidence of criminal activity, according to the Commission’s report.

Last year the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that the extended detention of a person without “reasonable suspicion” he is involved in criminal activity is illegal.    

“The court is quite clear in saying that once the reason for a traffic stop has been completed, that should be the end of the detention,” says Robert Appel, Alcudia’s lawyer.

“Detaining an operator and a passenger and the vehicle is all seizure under the fourth amendment. And therefore, in my view, the extended detention was unconstitutional, as well as racially discriminatory.”

The sergeant’s call to Border Patrol revealed that Alcudia does not have a criminal record.

However, Border Patrol arrived at the scene and took Alcudia into custody for being in the U.S. illegally.  Alcudia is currently in the middle of deportation proceedings.

Creating more clear anti-bias rules

As part of the settlement agreed to in the order by the Vermont Human Rights Commission, the  Grand Isle County Sheriff Department is required to adopt new anti-bias policing policies.

The report findsthat the 2014 version of the sheriff department’s policy is flawed, and “offered little to no protection to Mr. Alcudia due [to] the many potential exceptions that swallow the rule and allow searches and seizures not based on solid reasonable, articulable suspicion.”

The Grand Isle County Sheriff"s Department did not return calls by the time of this writing. However, Karen Richards of the Vermont Human Rights Commission says that the department will be adopting new rules that are being drafted for the state.

Following similar detentions of drivers in 2011 and 2013, Vermont lawmakers passed Act 193 in 2014, which requires the development of a statewide a “model fair and impartial policing policy.”

Stakeholders including Migrant Justice, the American Civil Liberties Union of Vermont and the Vermont Criminal Justice Training Council worked together to draft new language to be adopted uniformly across Vermont by July 1, 2016.

However, leaders at Migrant Justice say the draft now under consideration has been watered down from the language all parties originally agreed on, and “would fail to provide necessary guidelines against discriminatory treatment.”

The Vermont Criminal Justice Training Council is voting on whether to adopt the draft on Tuesday in Pittsford.

Kathleen Masterson as VPR's New England News Collaborative reporter. She covered energy, environment, infrastructure and labor issues for VPR and the collaborative. Kathleen came to Vermont having worked as a producer for NPR’s science desk and as a beat reporter covering agriculture and the environment.
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