N.J. Knew of Racial Profiling for Years

ByABC News

T R E N T O N, N.J., Oct. 12, 2000 -- State police commanders knew troopers weretargeting minority drivers at least three years before the stateadmitted racial profiling existed, according to internal agencydocuments.

A 1996 memo to then-superintendent Col. Carl Williams showedthat troopers had for years overwhelmingly stopped minoritymotorists more than whites.

In a three-month period in 1994, 94 percent of New Jersey Turnpike motorists stopped by troopers fromone barracks were minorities.

“At this point we are in a very bad spot,” the sergeant whoexamined the police records wrote Williams.

In another 1996 memo obtained today, Williams wrote the word“No!” and drew an arrow next to a recommendation that individualtroopers be held responsible and subject to counseling for racialprofiling.

It wasn’t until last year that then-Attorney General PeterVerniero admitted some troopers routinely targeted minoritydrivers. At the time, federal investigators were looking into civilrights claims, and troopers said they were ordered to stopminorities to boost drug bust statistics.

Did They Know?

Critics have said that Verniero, Williams and other stateofficials knew of the practice and did nothing to stop it.

In 1999, Gov. Christine Whitman fired Williams after he said ina newspaper interview that minority groups are more likely to beinvolved in drug trafficking. New Jersey also agreed to asettlement with the Justice Department and allowed an independentmonitor to oversee the State Police.

Documents like those obtained Thursday — and others reported byThe New York Times and the Record of Hackensack — appear to linkVerniero to several meetings about racial profiling before his 1999report detailing the practice. Verniero is now a New Jersey SupremeCourt justice.

“Justice Verniero was asked all these questions during thecourse of the Legislature’s racial profiling hearings,” Whitmansaid today. “He answered them in the fashion that he has alwaysanswered questions, which was honestly and straightforwardly.”

Repeated allegations of racial profiling met with a “pattern ofdenial” by state police that the problem existed, Whitman said.She said she did not know racial profiling was a fact untilVerniero’s report.

“That was both frustrating and disappointing, and it angeredme, because we had been hearing a lot, we had been concerned aboutthis, and yet there had been his consistent belief that this wasnot something that occurred, and I put my credibility on the lineas well, saying that there was no racial profiling,” she said.

Lawyers for people who say they were stopped solely because oftheir race won a court order to obtain all State Police recordsrelated to racial profiling. All 50,000 pages of the material areexpected to be made public in the next several weeks.

“The materials included should show what they knew and whenthey knew it, and it won’t paint a pretty picture,” Deputy PublicDefender Kevin Walker said today.

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