This story originally appeared on PlanPhilly.
It was a cold January evening in North Philadelphia when police officers pulled over Giovanni Hatter in his minivan. He was told he missed a stop. Hatter told the officers his gun was at home. But they still ordered him and his three passengers to get out so they could conduct a search.
He was escorted to the back of a patrol car while the teen boys he was driving home after a mentoring program emptied out to wait on the curb. As Hatter sat in the patrol car, he watched officers root around in his vehicle. He was in plain sight of the boys, who were relying on him for a ride home from a juvenile justice program.
Eventually, the officers allowed Hatter and the boys to carry on with their night. The interruption from police, though, altered the mood.
A harsh quiet overtook the minivan. Ultimately, the PPD dismissed his allegations because, the file re, they were unable to find corroborating witnesses. Traffic stops — the most common reason for police to interact with the public — are a principal point in national debates about race and policing. High-profile fatalities that began with a police stop, such as Sandra Bland in Texas and Philando Castile in Minnesota, have raised awareness of longstanding racial disparities in Philadelphia and other cities.
But very few police departments have been found guilty of systematic racial profiling. In Philadelphia, the issue has never gotten the front and center attention of reformers. Until now.
In this section of Northwest Philly — comprising some of the most economically troubled sections of the city as well as affluent enclaves such as Chestnut Hill — black drivers are more than three times as likely to be searched than white drivers, according to statistical analysis done for the public defenders group. There are more vehicle stops in the 14th District than almost any other part of the city. Out of all 22 police districts in Philadelphia, vehicle stops lead to arrests in the 14th District less often than any other.
After years of battles over stop-and-frisk practices, court-ordered reforms have changed how Philadelphia police search people. The result is fewer people stopped and patted down on the streets, with many more of the interactions that do happen stemming from a legal justification. Officers pulled Berry over in the 14th District for a minor traffic violation, and found illicit drugs when they searched his car.
Mellon maintains that the stop was unconstitutional, and so the evidence the officers found should not be admissible in court. To win this argument, he must prove that the Philadelphia Police Department systematically targets black and brown drivers, a violation of civil rights.
The alleged racial profiling in the 14th District, his data show, is a citywide problem. Although Philadelphia is about 43 percent black, police stop black drivers nearly 66 percent of the time, according to vehicle stop figures Mellon compiled. These figures, which have never before been closely analyzed, are comparable to the latest stop-and-frisk s, which show that roughly 71 percent of the pedestrians stopped are black. Before the the court-ordered reforms were initiated, black residents ed for nearly 80 percent of stops. Overall, Census data show that the 14th district is about 80 percent black and some 91 percent of vehicle stops are of black drivers.
But when you break down the police district by service areas, of which there are four in the 14th, an even sharper racial disparity emerges. Within the two majority-black service districts that encompass East Germantown and Logan sections, almost all vehicle stops in those parts of the community are of black drivers. But searching the other two portions of the district — including parts of West Oak Lane and Chestnut Hill, where only about half of the population is black — some eight out of 10 of all police vehicle stops target black drivers.
But even though 80 percent of police stops involve black drivers, white drivers are 40 percent more likely to be ticketed. Mellon points to that gap as evidence that cars with black occupants are routinely being pulled for for no reason. Less than two months later, white judge tossed out all the charges, citing a lack of evidence. According to Mellon, the officers — Colin Goshert, David Omlor, and Jennifer Skrocki — immediately ordered Berry to step out of the vehicle, before checking his or registration.
They reported smelling marijuana, so proceeded to man his car, where they uncovered six grams of marijuana, unspecified amount of Philadelphia and pills suspected to be oxycodone. Berry was arrested. Prosecutors charged him with possession, intent to deliver and other drug-related charges. The s were drawn from internal affairs records Mellon obtained. Their 14th District colleagues had similar track records.
But proving that officers pull over more black drivers is not the same as showing that officers pull drivers over because they are black.
Nobody admits that, right? In a landmark U. United States. In it, Scalia wrote, with a unanimous court behind him, that so long as an officer observes a traffic violation, any stop is fair game under the Fourth Amendment — regardless of underlying motivations. So any evidence they find of a more serious crime, such drug dealing, is admissible in court. Civil rights advocates have criticized the ruling, saying it opens the door to racial profiling. Mellon and his colleagues could also follow the path of a major New Jersey case that relied on the state constitution — as well as extensive data collection.
The decision, State v. Soto, said that New Jersey state troopers were intentionally pulling over drivers of color to search for drugs — establishing racial profiling as a legal premise, and overturning more than drug cases. The New Jersey State Police were put under a federal consent decree until they reformed their practices.
Which is to say, lawyers in New Jersey have set precedent, although few have been able to replicate the success. This is key to proving that black drivers are being stopped by officers at a disproportionate rate.
Take the third police service area in the 14th District, for instance. In the seminal Soto case, an expert surveyed 42, cars over 21 randomly selected times in June on the New Jersey Turnpike and found that black and white drivers break traffic laws at the same rate. But nearly half of all stops on the highways were black drivers, even though just 13 percent of cars had a black occupant. A judge ruled that that the only logical conclusion, then, is that black drivers were being targeted by state troopers.
Pennsylvania law provides a seemingly endless of justifications for pulling a driver over. The code lists 69 different sections on vehicle violations. And many of the rules hinge on judgment calls. An officer can stop a driver caught using their turn al less than feet from a turn. That could lead to a stop. A tinted car window is often used by officers to justify a vehicle stop. The state vehicle code says if a tint is too dark to see a person through the car windows, stopping someone on the road is permitted.
The appeals court threw out the case against the driver after establishing that the vehicle stop was unlawful. The situation becomes even more dicey for defendants in Philadelphia, Hetznecker said, since city police patrol cars are not equipped with dash cameras. Another person eager for change is Giovanni Hatter. Five years after the incident with the teen boys he was mentoring, he again filed a complaint alleging officers in the 14th District violated his civil rights.
Just before the new year, he was driving his minivan in the district after finishing a shift at his mentoring program when he saw the red and blue lights flash, he said. Officers accused him of running a red light, which he denies. Some type of hidden agenda.
It definitely needs to stop. Hatter has a meeting to discuss the complaint with the police internal affairs department on Jan. Ex-Philly homicide detectives face perjury charges for testimony in retrial of innocent man. A grand jury is recommending criminal charges against the former homicide detectives who gave false testimony against Anthony Wright, an innocent man. The three-month project will require police officers to first ask people to stop engaging in prohibited behavior before they question or detain someone.
Hit-and-run driver who ran over woman twice in Center City arrested in Montco: Police. Police say the victim, who had just left work at a Center City restaurant, later died of her injuries. This story originally appeared on PlanPhilly — It was a cold January evening in North Philadelphia when police officers pulled over Giovanni Hatter in his minivan. The episode was humiliating. Yet Hatter knew he had to hold back his resentment. This is key to proving that black drivers are being stopped by officers at a disproportionate rate Take the third police service area in the 14th District, for instance.
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