Rhode Island Judge Dismisses "Driving While Black" Lawsuit Against Westerly Police

February 26, 2004 12:00 am

ACLU Affiliate
Rhode Island ACLU
Media Contact
125 Broad Street
18th Floor
New York, NY 10004
United States

ACLU Weighs Appeal in Case of Man Ordered Out of Car at Gunpoint


PROVIDENCE –A federal judge today dismissed a lawsuit the American Civil Liberties Union filed two years ago against the Town of Westerly on behalf of 50-year old African-American Ashaway resident Bernard Flowers, who was stopped in his car and detained at gunpoint by town police. The ACLU had argued that Flowers was a victim of racial profiling.

“”Obviously, we are very disappointed by the ruling, and we will be considering our appeal options said Rhode Island ACLU Executive Director Steven Brown. It is hard to believe that the police would have acted the same way in a complaint against white men.””

The incident started with a report to Westerly police from a town resident claiming that someone had told him that a third person was going to send “”two black guys to his house with a gun.”” The resident also reported having seen a “”small gray or black vehicle”” occupied by “”two black males”” drive slowly by his home Some 20 minutes later, as Flowers was driving his gray car through town, without any passengers, police executed a “”felony car stop.””

Flowers was ordered to step out of his car while several officers, crouching behind opened police car doors, pointed loaded weapons at him. He was then handcuffed and ordered to his knees while several officers searched his car. Finding nothing, the police released him. Not only did the police offer no apologies, they would not even assist Flowers in trying to telephone his wife. Rather, he was left to his own devices on the side of the road. He drove himself to Westerly Hospital for the chest pains he was experiencing as a result of the incident, was medicated, and then released.

In dismissing the lawsuit, U.S. District Court Chief Judge Ernest Torres rejected the ACLU’s arguments that the police acted unreasonably in detaining Flowers and subjecting him to the felony stop.

Ironically, today’s decision was handed down on the same day that Congress introduced the End Racial Profiling Act. The legislation would ban racial profiling at all levels of law enforcement, and make efforts to eliminate the practice a condition of law enforcement agencies receiving federal money. It would provide grants to police departments for data collection systems and training to prevent racial profiling. It would also provide victims of racial profiling with the legal tools to hold law enforcement agencies accountable, and the Attorney General would be required to regularly report to Congress on the results of data collection

For more information about the proposed law, go to /node/11447

Every month, you'll receive regular roundups of the most important civil rights and civil liberties developments. Remember: a well-informed citizenry is the best defense against tyranny.

Learn More About the Issues in This Press Release