Court Finds RI Police in Contempt for Failing to Comply With State's "Driving While Black" Law

October 24, 2002 12:00 am

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Court Finds RI Police in Contempt for Failing to Comply With State’s “Driving While Black” Law


PROVIDENCE, RI -The American Civil Liberties Union of Rhode Island today hailed a decision by Superior Court Judge Stephen Fortunato, Jr. to hold the police department in contempt of court for failing to comply with the state’s “Driving While Black” law.

Rhode Island’s “DWB” law requires all police departments within the state to collect data for two years on traffic stops as part of a study to determine if racial profiling is taking place. The ACLU sued the Providence Police Department last November for failing to comply with the state law. In seeking the contempt citation, the ACLU noted that numerous hearings and court orders over the course of almost a year had failed to gain compliance.

“The Providence Police Department is unique in its failure to properly conduct a racial profiling study,” said Carolyn Mannis, the cooperating attorney who argued the case for the ACLU. “Today’s decision will hopefully act as a wake-up call to the police department.

In three days of hearings, Judge Fortunato heard testimony from the ACLU’s expert witnesses from Northeastern University that a full year-and-a-half into the two-year program, the police department still had not come into compliance with the law. The most recent progress report issued by experts analyzing the data noted that they still could not correctly match a traffic stop card in one out of every four stops.

In addition to holding the police department in contempt of court, Judge Fortunato ordered the collection of racial profiling data to be continued in Providence until the end of July 2003, even though the study for all other police departments in the state will end this December. The court also ordered that the police department commit additional resources and personnel to the study, and that experts from Northeastern University be retained to monitor the department’s compliance. Attorneys’ fees were also awarded.

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