Disagreements on statistical data continue to push back the trial date for a civil rights complaint against an Albemarle County police officer accused of racial profiling.
The case, one of several filed a few years ago on behalf of four local Black residents, alleges that Officer Andrew Holmes targeted them for traffic stops and search warrants because of their race, violating their 14th Amendment rights to equal protection under the law.
According to the appellants, Holmes made it a practice to stop and ticket three times as many Blacks as whites compared with all other officers on the force, and at a rate more than twice that of all officers who worked in the same sectors as Holmes.
In August 2019, the 4th Circuit Court of Appeals reversed part of a lower court’s decision to dismiss the complaint, which was initially presented to a jury in March 2018.
U.S. District Judge Norman K. Moon granted the dismissal, ruling against the inclusion of statistical evidence introduced by the plaintiffs. Moon said the statistical evidence and the case at large did not prove “discriminatory effect” because it did not identify individuals “similarly situated” who were from a different race than the plaintiffs and who were not subjected to the same treatment.
Jeffrey Fogel, the attorney representing the plaintiffs, said he still believes the case is strong and that the discrepancies between Holmes and other county police officers indicate a strong racial bias.
“It’s a great case to be able to say we’re not going after all cops, we’re not going after the Albemarle Police Department because look at how the other officer acted — very reasonably,” he said. “You’ve got your classic ‘bad apple’ here.”
In its unpublished 2019 opinion, the appeals court wrote that the district court erred in excluding the appellants’ statistical evidence, which indicated a racial disparity in Holmes’ traffic stops.
However, this statistical evidence — referred to as a “comparator table” in court documents — has been an issue of contention between the parties. Specifically, representatives for the county police have taken issue with whether a key data table represents citations that were issued during traffic stops and calls for service or those that were issued only during traffic stops.
Because the lawsuit was brought under the Equal Protection Clause with the purpose of proving discriminatory effect, the court ruled to expand discovery in order to determine if there are “distinguishable legitimate enforcement factors in the statistics and record evidence that justifies the differing treatment between Plaintiffs and the white drivers.”
A February order from the U.S. District Court indicated that the context, however, indicates that the comparator table likely reflects only traffic stops, but reopened discovery regardless.
Fogel maintains that the data only represents traffic stops but indicated that discovery has been impeded by the departure of a county crime analyst.
“I am told by the lawyer for the county police who spoke to her that she has no records, she has no recollection and there’s no paper trail anywhere about what that reflects,” Fogel said.”But I have to still take depositions, even if it’s only gonna be for 15 minutes.”
Fogel said he anticipates subpoenas and depositions of other county police officials will provide the evidence needed to show the comparator data only includes summonses for traffic stops, but does not expect the case to go to trial for several months, in part because discovery has dragged the case out.
“I’m ready to go to trial,” Fogel said. “I’ve already worked to try this case once. It’s not that difficult.”