WINSTON-SALEM, N.C. -- After four years, hundreds of pages of court filings, and several-hundreds-of-thousands of tax dollar spent, Alamance County Sheriff Terry Johnson and attorneys from the Department of Justice will meet in court.
The DOJ has made a laundry-list of accusations against the Sheriff's department, all with the common theme that discrimination against Latinos is not only rampant, but allowed.
Tuesday, the civil case will be heard in federal court in Winston-Salem.
The Department of Justice began its investigation in June 2010. At that time, a letter sent from the DOJ to the chair of the Alamance County Commissioners stated in-part, "In conducting the investigation, we will seek to determine whether there are systemic violations of the Constitution or laws of the United States by sworn law enforcement officers of the ACSO. We have not reached any conclusions about the subject matter of the investigation."
In 2011, the DOJ sued the ACSO, claiming employees of the department feared retaliation if they spoke with the DOJ. Sheriff Johnson denied that claim, and said his office never "forbid any personnel from speaking" with the DOJ.
Then in 2012, the DOJ announced it had proof Sheriff Johnson and his deputies discriminated against Latinos. Over a two-year period, the DOJ interviewed 125 people, including current and former deputies. It also reviewed ACSO's policies, procedures and reporting statistics. At that time, the DOJ alleged:
-ACSO deputies target Latino drivers for traffic stops;
-A study of ACSO's traffic stops on three major county roadways found that deputies were between four and 10 times more likely to stop Latino drivers than non-Latino drivers;
-ACSO deputies routinely locate checkpoints just outside Latino neighborhoods, forcing residents to endure police checks when entering or leaving their communities;
-ACSO practices at vehicle checkpoints often vary based on a driver's ethnicity. Deputies insist on examining identification of Latino drivers, while allowing drivers of other ethnicities to pass through without showing identification;
-ACSO deputies arrest Latinos for minor traffic violations while issuing citations or warnings to non-Latinos for the same violations;
-ACSO uses jail booking and detention practices, including practices related to immigration status checks, that discriminate against Latinos;
-The sheriff and ACSO's leadership explicitly instruct deputies to target Latinos with discriminatory traffic stops and other enforcement activities;
-The sheriff and ACSO leadership foster a culture of bias by using anti-Latino epithets; and
-ACSO engages in substandard reporting and monitoring practices that mask its discriminatory conduct.
The DOJ attempted to negotiate a court-enforceable agreement to fix what it says was discriminatory practices, but the Sheriff's office found an order unnecessary and denied any wrongdoing. In December of 2012, the DOJ filed a Civil Rights Lawsuit against Sheriff Johnson.
The DOJ filed suit seeking, "a court enforceable, comprehensive, written agreement that will ensure long term structural, cultural and institutional change at ACSO. In particular, ACSO must develop and implement new policies, procedures and training in effective and constitutional policing. Any reform efforts must also include systems of accountability to ensure that ACSO has eliminated unlawful bias from its decision making at all levels."
In March, the DOJ filed more than 600-pages of evidence, including depositions from former deputies who say they were explicitly told to target Latinos. In one account, Former Sheriff Deputy Adam Nicholson said Sheriff Johnson told him, "Get the Mexicans out of there."
Another former deputy wrote in a sworn statement Sheriff Johnson told him, "I want you to lock up any <expletive> Mexican that you can."
Included in the evidence is a video game the DOJ says an Alamance County Sheriff Captain e-mailed co-workers. The game was called Border Patrol, and the instructions read, "here is one simple objective - keep them out at any cost!" 'Them' being labeled - Mexican nationalist, drug smuggler and breeder.
Sheriff Johnson has repeatedly denied any wrongdoing or discrimination against Latinos.
The case will be argued in front of U.S. District Judge Thomas Schroeder. Sheriff Johnson's legal team is expected to call 16 witnesses, including Johnson. The DOJ is planning to call 48 witnesses.