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ACLU challenges Michigan State Police over racial disparities in stops

Posted at 6:14 AM, Jun 24, 2021

DETROIT — Two Black motorists who had a two-hour encounter with troopers filed a lawsuit Wednesday seeking sweeping remedies, including an order that Michigan State Police get outside help to reduce racial disparities in traffic stops.

State police have acknowledged an increase in the percentage of stops involving Black drivers from 2017 to 2019, but director Col. Joe Gasper has failed to act, according to the lawsuit filed in federal court by the American Civil Liberties Union of Michigan.

“Racially motivated vehicular stops are not innocuous encounters,” the lawsuit states. “Rather, they are unconstitutional seizures that increase the potential for confrontation, police violence, fatality, unlawful arrest and compounding constitutional violations.”

Camara Sankofa and Shanelle Thomas said they were stopped in 2019 while traveling in Oak Park on the Oakland County-Wayne County border. A trooper accused Sankofa of running a red light, though no tickets were issued when the stop finally ended two hours later.

During the stop, two drug-sniffing dogs searched the car. Three troopers were at the scene.

Sankofa and Thomas “did nothing other than drive while Black,” the lawsuit states.

Here is part of a statement released by Michigan State Police:

"The men and women of the Michigan State Police (MSP) are committed to the equitable treatment of all persons and to providing service and enforcing the law in a professional, just and nondiscriminatory manner. Longstanding department policies prohibit members from stopping or detaining anyone based solely on their race, ethnicity or possible immigration status. Allegations of improper traffic stops are taken seriously. If a trooper is accused of stopping a motorist without proper grounds, a thorough and objective internal investigation is conducted.

We vehemently oppose any allegation or insinuation by the ACLU of Michigan that the MSP has not been responsive to their requests. Not only have we modified our records system to collect the data they have requested, but we have also contracted with professional researchers to conduct a full analysis and review of our traffic stop data in order to identify if disparities exist. Further, we have shown our commitment to accountability by voluntarily publishing our traffic stop data on our website and by working with the ACLU of Michigan to review and modify department policies regarding immigration enforcement to ensure our interactions with these community members are handled in the most dignified and just way."