Three Students Charge Illinois State Police with Racial Profiling in Vehicle Stop

May 8, 2002 12:00 am

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PEORIA, IL–What should have been a routine traffic stop in November 2000 degenerated into an unlawful detention and search of three African American high school students in which a state trooper uttered a racial slur, according to a federal lawsuit filed by the American Civil Liberties Union of Illinois today.

According to the ACLU complaint, filed in the U.S. District Court for the Central District of Illinois, one of the young men, Corey A. Scott, also was the target of a vicious and obscene racial slur by an Illinois State Police Trooper who made the traffic stop and who told Mr. Scott that he sensed there were illegal drugs hidden in the car. The students were on their way to a holiday basketball tournament in an automobile driven by their assistant basketball coach, a white male.

“This is a textbook example of racial discrimination and racial profiling,” said Harvey Grossman, Legal Director for the ACLU of Illinois. “A traffic stop of a white motorist quickly escalated to an unwarranted, unauthorized search of these young men based upon their race. Additionally, an Illinois State Police trooper employed an ugly racial epithet in a clear attempt to intimidate one young man.”

The incident leading to today’s action took place on November 24, 2000. On that morning, Mr. Scott and two teammates on the Peoria Woodruff basketball team, Demir Fisher and Artie McFadden, traveled to a high school basketball tournament in Galesburg in a car driven by their assistant basketball coach. All four were wearing dress shirts, trousers and ties. The car was stopped along Interstate 74 by Trooper Jason Bevard, an officer in the Illinois State Police and a named defendant in today’s lawsuit.

Trooper Bevard approached the vehicle and took the license and proof of insurance from the coach. The trooper also asked for a driver’s license from Mr. Scott, who was sitting in the passenger seat next to his coach. Mr. Scott indicated that he was not carrying his driver’s license, but gave his name to Trooper Bevard.The trooper went to his patrol car, returned a few minutes later, and ordered Mr. Scott out of the coach’s car and into the patrol car.

Before they reached the patrol car Trooper Bevard, without consent or lawful justification, searched Mr. Scott, including the inside of his pockets and shoes. Once inside the patrol car, Trooper Bevard interrogated Mr. Scott demanding to know where drugs were hidden in the coach’s car.

Trooper Bevard repeatedly questioned Mr. Scott about any drugs in the car, a suggestion that Mr. Scott denied. Becoming agitated over Mr. Scott’s honest denial, Trooper Bevard resorted to an obscene racial epithet (“mother fucking nigger”) to describe Mr. Scott.

“The entire event was frightening and degrading,” said Corey Scott, now a senior at Peoria Woodruff High School. “We were singled out, searched and harassed with no warning or sense of why it was happening. The officer’s words – using obscene and racially degrading language – made clear to me that this happened because we are African American.”

The incident escalated further when a second and then a third trooper arrived. One of the troopers brought with him a drug-sniffing dog and began to search around and inside the coach’s automobile. Mr. Fisher and Mr. McFadden were frisked without consent or lawful justification. A trooper searched Mr. Fisher’s personal possessions, including his bag of athletic wear for the basketball game. No contraband of any type was found.

The detention of the three students lasted at least 30 minutes. Trooper Bevard issued a citation alleging that Mr. Scott was not wearing a seat belt. The charge against Mr. Scott was dismissed in state court in June 2001 because of insufficient evidence.

Within two weeks of the November 2000 incident, Mr. Scott filed a written complaint with the Illinois State Police. As part of the Illinois State Police’s own investigation of the event, Mr. Scott submitted to a State-administered polygraph examination. The results show that he was telling the truth about the interaction with Trooper Bevard, including the racial epithet. Despite this finding, the state police ruled that his complaint was unfounded.

“The Illinois State Police — according to their own investigation — must believe that Corey is telling the truth,” said Donald R. Jackson, a Peoria attorney assisting the ACLU of Illinois in this matter. “Still, they refuse to take appropriate steps to address this instance of police misconduct.” “It is an unfortunate thing whenever we learn of this kind of discriminatory behavior,” said

Richard J. O’Brien of the Chicago office of Sidley Austin Bown & Wood, who also is a cooperating attorney in the litigation. “It is especially unfortunate to learn that it has been committed by someone entrusted to serve and protect us. This kind of lawsuit is a necessary weapon in the effort to stamp out this kind of behavior. It is the type of behavior that drives a wedge between police and communities of color and adds to a sense of alienation on the part of young men of color.” Richard J. O’Brien, David B. Johnson and Jamie L. Secord of the Chicago office of Sidley Austin Brown & Wood and Peoria attorney Donald R. Jackson are cooperating lawyers for the ACLU of Illinois in this case.

A legal complaint in the case is available online at: /Files/Files.cfm?ID=10371&c=184.

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