ACLU of West Virginia Marks One Year Anniversary of Racial Profiling Incident by Filing Lawsuit Against Charleston Police

April 30, 2003 12:00 am

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CHARLESTON, WV — The American Civil Liberties Union of West Virginia today filed a lawsuit against city and law enforcement officials here charging that three African American college students were racially profiled last year as they drove home from a leadership development program.

“Despite the civil rights victories of 30 years ago, official racial prejudice is still reflected throughout our criminal justice system,” said Andrew Schneider, Executive Director of the ACLU of West Virginia. “Through this lawsuit the ACLU hopes to put an end to the substitution of skin color for evidence by law enforcement officers in Charleston.”

The lawsuit, Williams, et al. v. City of Charleston, et al., was filed on behalf of Drew Williams, Jason Price and Courtney Shannon, all of whom were stopped a year ago by nine Charleston police officers on their way home from a local barber shop. They were there as part of the West Virginia State College Student Leadership Program, which exposes students to minority entrepreneurs as role models for success and is a nationally recognized program for honor students.

One year ago today, police officers, with their guns drawn and over a loudspeaker, ordered the three students out of the car with their arms raised and to walk backwards towards the police cruisers. The students were then ordered to kneel on the pavement and were handcuffed.

For an hour, police searched and interrogated Williams, Price and Shannon as well as searched their vehicle. During interrogation, one officer called Williams a liar after he truthfully insisted that no one had approached their car before they left Trey’s Barber shop on Charleston’s East End as police had alleged. When no evidence of criminal misconduct was discovered, the three were released and the ordeal was over. The three however were left shaken by the incident.

“All I could see were guns,” said Drew Williams, an honor student at West Virginia State College and ACLU client in this case. “I have been having flash backs a lot and it just keeps replaying in my mind.”

According to the ACLU lawsuit, the City of Charleston violated the student’s Fourteenth Amendment’s guarantee of equal protection of the laws as well as their Fourth Amendment right to be free from unreasonable search and seizure. In addition, the police actions violated Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 that requires any federally-funded agency to conduct its activities in a racially non-discriminatory manner.

The lawsuit seeks an injunction to prevent Charleston police from continuing such race-based discrimination.

“Our clients have demonstrated tremendous courage and leadership in challenging this injustice so that other people of color do not have to suffer the same indignity,” said Cameron Scott McKinney, a cooperating attorney with the ACLU of West Virginia who filed today’s lawsuit.

The lawsuit was filed in United States District Court for the Southern District of West Virginia. David Grubb and Lisa Green are also serving as ACLU of West Virginia cooperating attorneys.

To read a copy on the complaint filed in this case please go to: /PolicePractices/PolicePractices.cfm?ID=12503&c=118

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