Federal Judge Rules ACLU of Minnesota Racial Profiling Lawsuit Can Move Forward

Affiliate: ACLU of Minnesota
July 7, 2004 12:00 am

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ST. PAUL–A federal judge has cleared the way for a racial profiling lawsuit brought by the American Civil Liberties Union of Minnesota against the Drug Enforcement Administration to move forward by denying most of the government’s motion to dismiss the case, the ACLU announced today.

The lawsuit, filed on behalf of Minneapolis resident Bonita Berg, charges the DEA with engaging in a “pattern and practice” of unconstitutional racial and gender profiling through its Operation Jetway airport drug interdiction program.

“We are pleased that the judge will allow the case to proceed,” said ACLU of Minnesota Legal Counsel Teresa Nelson. “Nobody should have to travel in fear of being stopped on the basis of their race and gender.”

In a case of “flying while black,” the lawsuit alleges that DEA agents used Berg’s race and gender to unjustly single her out for a non-routine search after she arrived in Minneapolis on an early morning flight from Los Angeles. The lawsuit further alleges that the DEA has a policy or custom of targeting black women for non-routine stops and searches in violation of the Fourth and Fifth Amendments.

The June 18 ruling by Federal District Court Judge Michael J. Davis came in response to the government’s motion to dismiss the lawsuit for failure to state a claim upon which relief could be granted. While the court dismissed the claims brought against the DEA’s supervisory employees, Judge Davis allowed claims to proceed against the two individual agents who stopped Berg, as well as the DEA itself. Lawyers for the government contended that Berg had consented to the stop and search and that the stop was therefore constitutional, however, the court determined that there was “no credible evidence that Berg consented to the search,” and concluded she had “alleged facts that amount to an unreasonable search and seizure.”

The court’s ruling means that the case can proceed to discovery and possibly trial if the parties are unable to reach a satisfactory settlement. The ACLU of Minnesota volunteer attorneys are Jerry Blackwell, Gary Wood, and Albert Goins.

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