ACLU demands TPD stop investigating immigration status at traffic stops

Published: May. 2, 2016 at 9:54 PM MST|Updated: May. 3, 2016 at 8:56 AM MST
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ARIZONA (Tucson News Now) - The ACLU of Arizona sent a letter to  Tucson Police Department Chief Chris Magnus on Monday, demanding changes in policy following an investigation into TPD's traffic stop records.

The investigation indicates TPD officers enforcing Section 2(B) of SB 1070 prolonged traffic stops in order to investigate a person's immigration status, according to the ACLU.

"When the Supreme Court allowed section 2(B), the 'papers please provision,' of SB 1070 to go into effect, the Supreme Court warned that to delay the release of people just to investigate their immigration status would raise constitutional concerns," said James Lyall, staff attorney with the ACLU of Arizona.

ACLU reviewed traffic stop records from June 2014 to December 2015.

They found 85 of the roughly 110 cases that TPD identified in which Border Patrol responded to the scene, to be clear or potential constitutional violations.

The ACLU said the majority of the stops reviewed lasted between one and two hours, most of which were routine traffic stops.

Lyall said the Supreme Court recently ruled in Rodriguez v. United States that a traffic stop extended past the time required to address the basis for the stop violates the constitution.

"Local police do not have constitutional authority to detain people, to prolong stops just to investigate stops or to wait for Border Patrol to respond. And in fact, Tucson PD policy prohibits officers from doing that, but the department's own records show that is nonetheless still happening," Lyall said.

Lyall said there needs to more done to make sure TPD policies are clear and so that officers understand the limits of their authority. The letter to Chief Magnus outlines more than a dozen policy recommendation.

The letter also highlights more than 20 examples in which stops were in violation, including the following:

  • A mother driving her two children to school was stopped and found to have a suspended license, for which she could have been cited and released. Instead, TPD detained her until Border Patrol arrived to take custody, over an hour after the officer’s immigration check and one hour and twenty minutes after the stop was initiated.

  • Two individuals stopped for speeding identified themselves as “DREAMers.” The officer advised them “they were being detained as they had provided no evidence of being in the US legally” even though that is not a crime and gave the officer no authority to detain them. The officer requested Border Patrol respond to the scene. Border Patrol arrived but declined to take either subject into custody and the stop was concluded—one and a half hours after it was initiated.

  • A driver was stopped and found to have a suspended license. The officer conducted an immigration check, which indicated the driver was undocumented. Border Patrol arrived and determined the driver was a U.S. citizen—one hour after the immigration check was initiated. TPD cited and released the driver four minutes later. 

ACLU also sent a letter to Jeh Johnson, the U.S. Secretary of Homeland Security. To read this letter click here.

TPD Chief Chris Magnus released the following statement in response to the letter.

"I received a copy of a letter from the ACLU dated May 2, 2016, regarding our department's enforcement of SB 1070. I plan to give thoughtful consideration to the issues raised in the letter with an eye toward identifying any opportunities to improve our training, policies, and practices. Information in the ACLU letter will be of value in our evolving efforts to retain and further strengthen a trusting relationship with all members of the community, as we endeavor to fairly enforce the law. I look forward to a previously set meeting with ACLU staff and community members next week to discuss our efforts moving forward."

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