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Bernalillo County settles racial profiling suit for $100,000

Copyright © 2020 Albuquerque Journal

Bernalillo County has reached a $100,000 settlement in a racial profiling suit filed by a black woman who was stopped by deputies three times in less than a month, but never cited or even issued a warning.

Sherese Crawford was working a temporary assignment in New Mexico as a deportation officer for Immigration and Customs Enforcement in 2017. Her lawsuit describes three stops on Interstate 40, one by former deputy Leonard Armijo and two by deputy Patrick Rael.

“These deputies reminded her that her skin color – not the reality of whether she has violated any laws and not the hard work she has put into becoming an exemplary law enforcement officer, herself – dictates how other law enforcement officers will treat her,” ACLU of New Mexico Legal Director Leon Howard said in a letter to Sheriff Manuel Gonzales on Monday.

A review of 82 BCSO traffic stops on I-40 between January and July 2017 found that 17% of the motorists who were stopped were black, according to Howard’s letter. For comparison, 2.6% of New Mexico’s population is black.

Gonzales said in a statement Tuesday that his office “does not condone the actions by the deputies mentioned in this incident.” Both were disciplined, required to attend additional training and removed from their positions. One has since resigned.

Crawford’s lawsuit, filed in late 2017, outlines the explanations she was given for each stop. Two of those – passing on the right side and tailgating – were “incontrovertibly contradicted” by dash camera footage, Howard wrote. Howard pointed out in an interview that not all BCSO vehicles are outfitted with dash cameras.

Crawford was also stopped when, according to the deputy, her license plate came back as a “skip,” indicating her rental car could have been stolen. She later confirmed that the car was properly registered.

In his letter, Howard encouraged the sheriff to implement mandatory implicit bias training and to allow a qualified professional to review BCSO polices and procedures to ensure they are free of bias.

He has also requested a meeting with the sheriff within two weeks to discuss whether BCSO intends to follow those recommendations and offered the ACLU’s assistance in implementing implicit bias training.

“We have a sheriff right now who has not shown that he is receptive to change and to responding to the community to create a more fair and transparent police department,” he said in the interview.

In his statement, Gonzales said the Sheriff’s Office offers and requires multiple training courses in cultural diversity, unbiased policing and constitutional law.

“The Bernalillo County Sheriff’s Office is one of the most diverse law enforcement agencies in the country,” he said, “and as the chief law enforcement office of the largest county in the only minority-majority state, diversity is one of our strongest assets as we work with our community.”

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