ACLU Asks Court to Find RI Police in Contempt for Failing to Comply with State's "Driving While Black" Law

September 23, 2002 12:00 am

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PROVIDENCE, RI –The American Civil Liberties Union of Rhode Island today asked a Superior Court judge to hold the police department in contempt for failing to comply with the state’s “”Driving while Black”” law aimed at preventing racial profiling.

In a legal brief accompanying today’s request, the ACLU noted that numerous court hearings and court orders over the course of almost a year have failed to achieve departmental compliance with the law.

“”Nobody is above the law,”” said Carolyn A. Mannis, a volunteer attorney for the ACLU of Rhode Island. “”Measures adopted by the court thus far have failed. If those measures and the court’s stern warnings to the Providence Police did not work, then nothing short of a court order will likely work.””

Among other things, the ACLU is requesting the appointment of a Special Master to monitor the Police Department’s compliance with the law; the payment of a $10,000 sanction to the ACLU and an additional $10,000 for each month the police department continues to be in non-compliance; and the continuation of traffic stop data collection by the Providence police for at least one year even though the statewide study will end in December.

In a progress report analyzing the traffic stop data program, experts at Northeastern University concluded that despite some improvements, there were still “”questions about the accuracy of the overall data”” from Providence police. For example, the experts noted that they still could not correctly match a traffic stop card with one out of every four stops captured on police cruiser videotapes.

As a result, the presiding judge has referred the matter to Superior Court Judge Stephen Fortunato, Jr., who will conduct a hearing on the Department’s non-compliance. The Rhode Island Attorney General has also filed a brief asking the court to hold the police department in contempt. The hearing on those requests is scheduled for October 10.

In December 2001, a court ordered the Providence Police Department to begin complying with the law. A news release about that decision is online at

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