Las Vegas Metropolitan Police Department Officer Testified Stops Are Based on Race and Sex
LAS VEGAS – The American Civil Liberties Union of Nevada is alarmed by reports of racial profiling and police harassment by the Las Vegas Metropolitan Police Department in the West Las Vegas neighborhood. Recently discovered testimony by a Metro police officer from a federal evidentiary hearing held in August 2009 supports claims that Metro officers “manufacture” offenses such as jaywalking and improperly stop people walking the streets of West Las Vegas.
Worse, just being of a certain sex or race and being in certain neighborhoods appears to be motivating some Metro officers to initiate stops. When cross-examined during the federal evidentiary hearing, the officer stated that he would have reasonable suspicion to stop all males “simply for walking through the neighborhood[s]” of West Las Vegas, especially if the person happens to be a “white male adult in a predominantly black neighborhood.”
“You cannot be legally stopped just because of your race or sex,” said Maggie McLetchie, a lawyer with the ACLU of Nevada. As one court explained, “A person's racial status is not an ‘unusual’ circumstance and the presence of an individual of one race in an area inhabited primarily by members of another race is not a sufficient basis to suggest that crime is afoot.”
Many residents have reported that they are stopped for “jaywalking” when they are not, and that officers are also cuffing and detaining people on the street for unnecessarily long periods and for no apparent reason. According to reports, the stops do not often result in citations or arrests – and people are often handcuffed, questioned, and released without ever knowing why police stopped them.
“If these reports are true, the constitutional rights of people are being violated,” McLetchie said. “The Fourth Amendment guarantees all Americans have the right to be free from unreasonable searches and seizures, and if these officers are manufacturing crimes to shake people down on the street, that would constitute an unreasonable seizure.”
In the federal case in which the officer testified, the magistrate judge held that the alleged jaywalking did not justify the police stop. Magistrate Judge George Foley, Jr., held that the officer “did not have probable cause or reasonable suspicion to stop and detain” the suspect.
“If you believe that police are violating the law when they stop you, do not resist or confront officers, but be vocal and clear about refusing questioning or objecting to any search,” McLetchie said. “Document the stop and the name and badge number of the officer or officers involved, and file a complaint.”
To learn more about your rights when interacting with police and for more information about the ACLU of Nevada, visit www.aclunv.org.