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Settlement in Pennsylvania Traffic Stop Suit


November 1994

A Pennsylvania municipality agreed to settle a traffic-stop suit brought by minority drivers who claimed they had been forced to stop because of race-based drug courier profiles ("Pennsylvania Municipality Settles to End Minority Driver Lawsuit," Drug Enforcement Report, Oct. 25, 1994, p. 3).

Four primary plaintiffs, 51 other plaintiffs, and the attorneys in the case will share the $220,000 Tinicum Township agreed to pay. The settlement also requires the municipality stop race-based searches and arrests and report all traffic stops on route Interstate 95 to the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) for the next two years.

The suit was brought by minorities who had been stopped and searched for drugs on I-95 near the Philadelphia International Airport. According to Lawrence Bowden, one of the defendants, the police told him they stopped him "because you're black, young, driving a nice car, and in a high drug traffic area."

"There's nothing wrong with the drug courier profile per se, as long as there is a reason for it," said Wayne Schmidt, executive director of Americans for Effective Law Enforcement. "If the police are aware of patterns there is nothing that says that they cannot use them. Drug profiles have been upheld at airports and they've been upheld at border crossings."

There have been an number of recent traffic-stop cases filed around the country, according to Gene Guerrero, national field director for the ACLU. What is remarkable about this case is that the defendant settled, Guerrero said. Other traffic-stop cases are pending in Maryland, Utah, and Florida. (See last month's NewsBriefs, pages 3-4 for more information about suits in Florida and Illinois.)