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Racial-profiling trial begins in Phoenix

July 19, 2012 at 4:47 PM   |   Comments

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PHOENIX, July 19 (UPI) -- Hispanic drivers pulled over by Phoenix-area sheriff's deputies were more likely to have their names checked and were held longer, an expert said Thursday.

Ralph Taylor, who teaches at Temple University in Philadelphia, was the first witness in a racial-profiling lawsuit against the Maricopa County Sheriff's Department, The Arizona Republic reported. Controversial Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio has turned illegal immigration into a cause, putting him at odds with the large Hispanic community in the area, the Obama administration's Justice Department and even with other law enforcement agencies in Arizona.

Taylor said that when he examined data from about 100,000 traffic stops between 2007 and 2009 he found drivers with Spanish surnames were 30 to 40 percent more likely to have their names checked and the traffic stops were 22 percent longer.

The lawsuit was originally filed in 2007 when Manuel de Jesus Ortega Melendres, a Mexican visiting the United States illegally, was detained. He was a passenger in a car driven by a non-Hispanic and said he was held for nine hours.

U.S. District Judge G. Murray Snow said his findings will be based on current practices of the Maricopa County Sheriff's Department and not on what they were in 2007.

The original plaintiffs also included two visitors from Chicago, siblings with a Hispanic surname, who said they were detained, and the husband of an aide to former Phoenix Mayor Phil Gordon. The lawsuit is now a class action, including every Hispanic driver pulled over in Maricopa County.

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