ACLU is investigating legality of sheriff’s checkpoints
By Nick Breedlove

The North Carolina branch of the American Civil Liberties Union Monday launched an investigation into Jackson County Sheriff Jimmy Ashe’s activities in connection with a May 16 seat belt checkpoint in the Tuckasegee area that included officers from Immigrations and Customs Enforcement.

The Jackson County Sheriff’s Office requested ICE participation in that checkpoint, ICE Public Relations Officer Ivan Ortiz-Delgado said in a Tuesday e-mail to The Herald.

“The Sheriff’s Office in Jackson County requested the participation of ICE in a traffic checkpoint located in Tuckasegee,” the e-mail said.

Ortiz-Delgado said the checkpoint was part of a statewide campaign “conducted under N.C. Governor’s Highway Safety Initiative. While the principal purpose of these campaigns is to increase seat belt and child safety seat usage, it also often results in the identification of criminal violators. As a law enforcement agency, ICE regularly works with our city, county and state partners in operations that enhance public safety.”

The Herald is seeking records regarding who has been detained and any charges resulting from that checkpoint, however, those records were not released by press time.

As of Tuesday afternoon, the Sheriff’s Office had not responded to The Herald’s request for comment.

“ICE officers interviewed approximately 50 individuals and identified 15 foreign-born criminals who did not possess proper immigration documents to be in the country legally,” Ortiz-Delgado said of the May 16 checkpoint. “The criminal convictions of these persons ranged from multiple traffic violations and driving while impaired offenses to domestic violence. In addition, two persons who had been previously deported from the United States and re-entered illegally were identified.”

Those 15 persons were taken into ICE custody and transported to its Charlotte facility he said.

“Of the 15 arrested, 12 were subsequently released under Orders of Recognizance and/or placed into the Alternatives to Detention program. The remaining three were booked into custody and are presently detained by ICE,” he said.

An ACLU attorney told The Herald Tuesday the investigation regarding the Sheriff’s Office was launched following complaints.

“We launched the investigation after we received complaints from community members and drivers who had gone through that the checkpoint the Jackson County Sheriff’s Office did on May 16 in collaboration with ICE,” said ACLU-N.C. Legal Foundation racial justice attorney Raul Pinto.

The ACLU is seeking information from anybody who has gone through a sheriff checkpoint recently, May 16, or otherwise, he said.

“We began to hear from folks that the licenses of Latino drivers were being scrutinized much more than those of Caucasian drivers,” he said.

For that reason, the ACLU is seeking information on local checkpoints, Pinto said.

“We’re looking for anybody who has been through a checkpoint who can attest to the procedures of the sheriff’s office,” Pinto said. “By their accounts we can determine whether the sheriff is adhering to the checkpoint law.”

Pinto said checkpoints must adhere to the federal constitution and must not be in the same location.

“We want to hear from people who have seen checkpoints placed in their neighborhoods repeatedly,” he said.

The ACLU’s request for assistance from those who have been through such checkpoints appears in both English and Spanish at the end of this report.

The ACLU-NCLF got calls before the Asheville Citizen-Times published its report of the deportations and continues to receive calls from people who have been through Jackson County Sheriff’s Office checkpoints, Pinto said.

According to North Carolina law, checkpoints must adhere to several requirements, including that an individual officer can’t use discretion as to who has to produce identification.

The statute reads: “… but no individual officer may be given discretion as to which vehicle is stopped or, of the vehicles stopped, which driver is requested to produce driver’s license, registration, or insurance information.”

The involvement of ICE makes the checkpoint’s purpose unclear, Pinto said.

“There’s no clear mandate on whether ICE can be involved in checkpoints,” he said.

What the law does state is that checkpoints to ascertain immigration status are only allowed within 100 miles of an international border, he said.

“When you bring ICE into what’s supposedly – what we understand to be a seat belt checkpoint – it really muddles the purpose into something that might be unconstitutional,” he said.

A 2009 study by the Southern Poverty Law Center, titled “Under Siege: Life for Low-Income Latinos in the South” cites “police checkpoints in predominately Latino areas are a common complaint.”

Another study, from the Pew Hispanic Center, found that nearly one in 10 Hispanic adults — 8 percent of native-born U.S. citizens and 10 percent of immigrants — reported being stopped in the past year by police or other authorities who asked about their immigration status.

ACLU seeks information on suspected local racial profiling

The American Civil Liberties Union of North Carolina has issued the following statement in both English an Spanish:

“The ACLU of North Carolina is investigating claims of racial profiling during the execution of checkpoints by the Jackson County Sheriff’s Office. Checkpoints are only allowed for limited purposes, and the manner in which these checkpoints are conducted often violates the civil rights of Latinos and other racial minorities. People who have been affected by this policy may contact Raul Pinto at the ACLU of North Carolina at 919-834-3466.”

“La Unión Americana de Libertades Civiles de Carolina del Norte (ACLU por sus siglas en inglés) está investigando quejas de discriminación racial por parte de la Oficina del Alguacil del Condado de Jackson en la ejecución de retenes policiales. La ley permite retenes solamente para propósitos limitados, y la manera en la cual estos retenes son ejecutados a menudo violan los derechos civiles de Latinos y otras minorías raciales. La gente que haya sido afectada por esta practica puede contactarse con Raul Pinto de la ACLU al 919-834-3466.”

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Champions of Civil Liberties Lotte Meyerson and Karen VanEman

The ACLU of WNC Chapter presented its annual Evan Mahaney Champion of Civil Liberties Award of 2011 to Lotte Meyerson. Former Chapter Chair Karen Van Eman introduced Meyerson and presented the award at the annual membership meeting, pictured above.

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Activists: Racial profiling used in Asheville-area police checkpoints

9:46 PM, May. 22, 2011


Written by
Sandra V. Rodriguez

To report a checkpoint

Call Defensa Comunitaria’s 24-hour hot line at 888-839-2839

ASHEVILLE — Warming weather has signaled the start of the “checkpoints season,” a months-long period where local law enforcement will set up sobriety, seat belt and license checkpoints throughout Western North Carolina.

One group of activists has noticed a pattern in this that disproportionately affects minorities, specifically Latinos.

With racial profiling, there is a presumption by law enforcement that because a person is of a certain race, that individual is more likely to be engaging in illegal behavior, racial justice fellow Raul Pinto said Sunday during the annual meeting of the WNC chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union of North Carolina.

He was the featured speaker at the event, which drew an audience of about 50 to the community room of Congregation Beth HaTephila.

“We find that is the case here,” Pinto said. “Police officers and local law enforcement agencies are making the assumption that just because you are Latino, you are more than likely to be undocumented.”

Sunday’s discussion included strategies used by the ACLU and its partners to combat racial profiling.

Checkpoints, Pinto said, are more likely to be set up in economically challenged neighborhoods where a majority of the residents are Latino. Through interviews, reported and anecdotal incidents, and with the help of experts, the ACLU has been able to conclude that the motivation of law enforcement appears to be financial rather than racial, contrary to popular belief.

Every time a person is ticketed for not having a license, it costs about $185, Pinto said.

“A lot of these folks, first off, are low-income,” he said. “They don’t make a lot of money and so most of their income is going to go to pay these tickets. We have heard reports that people have been stopped twice in one week because the checkpoints are basically outside their doors.”

The practice may raise revenues for the agencies, but it hurts the relationship between the Latino community and the police, Pinto said.

This relationship was strained recently by the arrest of Antonio Hernandez Carranza. He had cocaine charges filed against him after a field test incorrectly showed traces of the drug in the tortilla dough, cheese and other food he was transporting.Page 2 of 2)

“I think that the way that you have seen, specifically with checkpoints, is that it creates this mistrust between the community and the local law enforcement agencies,” Pinto said. “It could play in the mind of the community where an incident like this could be racially motivated.”

In the audience was City Councilman Cecil Bothwell, who is launching a bid for U.S. House of Representatives. Bothwell, who was representing a coalition of faith-based groups, recently met with Asheville Police Department officials to talk to them about the use of the checkpoints, among other things.

“They (police officials) said the checkpoints, sometimes they get backed up and sometimes they just let a bunch of cars through,” Bothwell said. “But it seems like a real easy way to skip a bunch of Caucasians without counting … They claim that they don’t position them by ethnic neighborhoods but by high-crime neighborhoods, and that’s a real tough distinction to make.”

The ACLU-NC has been looking at different avenues to relieve the burden on the Latino community, including litigation.

But it faces challenges specially if the individuals are undocumented and are wary of identifying themselves as such in court.

Groups like Defensa Comunitaria, with Nuestro Centro, have volunteers that operate a hot line that both document locations and monitor police as they operate the checkpoints to keep protest the practice and to protect the individuals affected.

“It goes beyond tickets, it goes to breaking up families,” said Angelica Reza Wind. “Just recently this family was going out for a Sunday afternoon picnic. The father went to get sandwiches, and he got pulled over because he didn’t have his turn signal on. I do that all the time and so this family who was just going to go on a picnic got to see (the) father detained and subsequently deported.”

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

ACLU works to keep religion safe

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Racial Profiling Expert Raul Pinto & Champion of Civil Liberties Lotte Meyerson Headline ACLU Annual Meeting

WHAT: “The Checkpoint Experience — A Discussion of Different Strategies Used to Combat Racial Profiling” by Raul Pinto, ACLU of NC Racial Justice Fellow, free and open to the public
WHEN:  Sunday, May 22, 3:00 p.m.
WHERE:  Congregation Beth HaTephila, 43 N. Liberty St., Asheville, NC

Asheville — The American Civil Liberties Union of North Carolina holds its annual membership meeting in Asheville this year, and features a free presentation by Raul A. Pinto, The Checkpoint Experience — A Discussion of Different Strategies Used to Combat Racial Profiling“, at 3:00 p.m. this Sunday, May 22, at Congregation Beth HaTephila, 43 N. Liberty Street.

The local chapter of the ACLU-NC will also conduct its annual membership meeting on Sunday afternoon, when Lotte Meyerson will receive the  chapter’s annual Champion of Civil Liberties award at 1:30 p.m. The public is invited to attend both events.

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

ACLU advances equality in Asheville

On Sunday, March 6, Christine Sun, Senior Counsel for the ACLU, participated in The State of Equality, a panel discussion hosted by Get Equal/NC and Blue Ridge Pride. The event was hosted by the Human Rights Team of the Unitarian Universalist Church of Asheville. Panel participants included Constance McMillen, who made national news in 2010 when she challenged her Mississippi school district’s discriminatory decision to forbid her from bringing her girlfriend to her high school prom, and Dan Fotou, the Regional Director for GetEQUAL, a national LGBTQ rights organization that utilizes many tools to work for equality, including nonviolent civil disobedience..

Sun graduated with honors from NYU School of Law in 1998 where she was editor of the NYU Law Review. She also clerked for Judge Robert L. Carter, former NAACP General Counsel who argued Brown v. Board of Education. She also helped write the North Carolina anti-bullying legislation that was passed in 2010. She has represented many high profile clients, including Constance McMillen. In June of 2010, Christine was named one of “The Best LGBT attorneys under 40” by the LGBT Bar Association.

Posted in Uncategorized | 1 Comment