ACLU of Pennsylvania Sues York County Sheriffs Over Racial Profiling of African American State Trooper

May 4, 2004 12:00 am

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YORK, PA – The American Civil Liberties Union of Pennsylvania today filed a lawsuit on behalf of an African American state trooper who was the victim of a racial profiling traffic stop by the York County Sheriff’s Department.

“”This traffic stop represents a clear instance of racial profiling,”” said ACLU of Pennsylvania attorney Paula Knudsen. “”Our client, an individual sworn to uphold the law, was pulled over for no other reason than the color of his skin.””

According to the ACLU lawsuit, last August Pennsylvania State Trooper Raphael Christopher was stopped by two York County Deputy Sheriffs while driving with his 8-year-old son on East Market Street here. Christopher, who was not in uniform at the time, was driving his late model Lexus when he was pulled over by the Deputy Sheriffs, Frederick Nestlerode and Matthew Kerr.

Nestlerode and Kerr issued Christopher a citation for speeding, although neither possessed a device for determining his vehicle’s speed. Christopher was later found not guilty of the speeding charge.

“”I know that I did nothing wrong,”” Christopher said. “”The sad fact is that these Deputy Sheriffs stopped me for being black. At first they were really abusive – yelling, frightening my son to tears – but their whole attitude changed once they realized I was a trooper. But that doesn’t change the fact that I was subjected to racial profiling, a practice that I know is unlawful. “”

The lawsuit, filed in U.S. District Court against Nestlerode and Kerr claims violations of federal civil rights law and of Christopher’s constitutional right to equal protection under the Fourteenth Amendment. The ACLU is seeking compensatory and punitive damages on Christopher’s behalf.

In addition to the lawsuit, the ACLU has implemented a larger plan to address racial profiling in York, a city long criticized for its history of racial discrimination. Working with local community groups, the ACLU has called upon the county’s law enforcement agencies to adopt the recommendations of an extensive racial profiling study – measures which were meant to be enacted following the passage of a City Council resolution in 2002 – and to begin recording the race of individuals stopped for traffic violations, as well as to establish an independent review board to examine complaints against officers.

“”People of color living in York know that racial profiling is a problem,”” said Knudsen. “”That much is made clear to them everyday. What they want to know now is, what’s the solution? Hopefully, this lawsuit, coupled with community efforts already underway, will produce some answers and help bring an end to the unjust practice of racial profiling in York.””

In addition to urging local data collection on racial profiling, the ACLU also supports the federal “”End Racial Profiling Act of 2004.”” The bill, introduced by Senators Russ Feingold (D-WI), Jon Corzine (D-NJ) and Rep. John Conyers (D-MI) defines racial profiling, makes it illegal and requires data collection on all law enforcement encounters. It also provides individuals harmed by racial profiling with the power to stop law enforcement agencies from continuing to profile based on race, religion or national origin.

For more information on the bill, go to /node/4032

The lawsuit, Christopher v. Nestlerode et al., is online at /node/35360

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