Former Cop Falls Victim to Police Misconduct; ACLU of Nebraska Claims Discrimination

November 14, 2001

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

LINCOLN, NE -- The American Civil Liberties Union of Nebraska today filed a lawsuit on behalf of a former police officer who alleges he's fallen victim to police misconduct at the hands of a county sheriff's department. 

"Our client is a professional with expertise in law enforcement matters who also happens to be Hispanic," said Tim Butz, Executive Director of the ACLU of Nebraska Foundation. "Unfortunately, the Sarpy County Sheriff's Department only chose to see the latter in a blatant act of discrimination." 

The ACLU's lawsuit on behalf of Richard Rivera, the former police officer, alleges that he was physically abused, illegally arrested and searched solely because he is Hispanic. 

Rivera, age 31, is a private consultant on law enforcement and security matters and once a police officer in New Jersey. He had been in the Omaha area conducting tests of local police departments to determine how they responded to requests for information on how to file a complaint about an officer's conduct. 

The ACLU's complaint alleges that when Rivera attempted to get information from the Sarpy County Sheriff's Department in the early evening hours of May 8, 2001, he was met by Deputy Joe Eaton outside the Sarpy County Jail, and told to return the following day during normal business hours. 

When Rivera asked for the name and phone number of an officer who would talk with him, Deputy Eaton demanded that Rivera show identification, telling him that he was breaking the law if he refused to provide it. An altercation then ensued when Rivera responded that he would simply return the next day, and attempted to walk away. 

Eaton threw Rivera against a car and handcuffed him. Despite complaining about the handcuffs being too tight, Eaton refused to loosen them. Eaton then took Rivera into the jail and booked him. 

Two hours later Rivera was released with a citation for "false reporting," which the Sarpy County Attorney refused to prosecute. The arrest was recorded by KETV (Channel 7- Omaha) reporter Carol Kloss and photojournalist Cathy Beeler, who had been following Rivera as he conducted his tests. 

Sarpy County Sheriff Pat Thomas is also named in the suit for his actions following the arrest. Thomas contacted the West New York, New Jersey, Police Department and informed them that their former employee had been arrested. Thomas also contacted a newspaper in Rivera's hometown, which resulted in a front-page article about the arrest. 

The suit filed by ACLU Nebraska alleges that Deputy Eaton violated Rivera's rights under the Fourth, Fifth and Fourteenth Amendments to the U.S. Constitution by illegally arresting and illegally searching him. The suit claims that Eaton violated Rivera's rights due to Rivera's Hispanic national origin. 

The suit also claims that the actions of Sheriff Thomas violated Rivera's First amendment rights of free speech by retaliating against him for speaking out or attempting to speak out on a matter of public concern. The suit also raises a claim for "oppression under color of law", which prohibits state officials from violating state law under Nebraska statutes. 

"The fact that the Sarpy County Attorney's Office refused to prosecute our client on a 'trumped-up' charge reveals the Sheriff's department's motives as disingenuous," Butz said. "Community residents must trust the police to enforce public safety, but the police must never be allowed to operate with impunity." 

The suit asks that the Sheriff's Department be ordered to implement and follow a written policy regarding the handling of citizen complaints. If granted by the Court, the injunction would also require that the Sheriff's Department not discriminate on the basis of race or national origin in administering the policy, and would prohibit any retaliatory conduct designed to punish citizens for practicing their First Amendment rights. The suit also seeks unspecified damages under the federal constitutional claims and state claims. 

Rivera is represented by Amy Miller, Legal Director of ACLU Nebraska Foundation, and by Jeremy Patrick, a senior law student at the UNL College of Law who has been certified to practice in federal court. 

To learn more about racial profiling, visit the ""Arrest the Racism"" feature on the ACLU's website at http://archive.aclu.org/profiling.

Statistics image