What does cruiser camera reveal about controversial stop?
Middlesex, Vermont - September 20, 2011
It started as a routine traffic stop. Vermont State police pulled over a truck for speeding on Interstate 89. The trooper's cruiser cam caught the whole encounter on video.
"Do you know why I'm stopping you?" Vt. State Trooper Jared Hatch is heard asking on the video.
But some say the trooper crossed the line when he turned his attention from the speeding driver-- who is a U.S. citizen-- to the passengers in the car, quickly questioning the two men from Mexico about their immigration status and eventually turning them over to federal authorities when they couldn't provide documentation.
"We'll hang out here until Border Patrol comes," Hatch said. "You guys aren't going anywhere."
This sparked immigration advocates to protest at the Border Patrol and caught the attention of Vermont Attorney General Bill Sorrell who launched a bias-free policing policy last November-- guidelines he hoped the Vermont State police would also adopt.
"They certainly have not adopted all four corners of the model policy," said Sorrell, D-Vt. Attorney General.
But he wouldn't say if the trooper went too far. The AG's model policy encourages law enforcement not to inquire about the immigration status of otherwise law abiding individuals. And if police do discover someone is illegal, not to turn them over to federal authorities unless they pose a serious safety threat.
"We don't want a bunch of criminals or human traffickers or homeland security threats working on our dairy farms, but if someone who's otherwise law abiding, there are a lot of Vermonters that think we ought to be more open to the benefits they provide," Sorrell said.
Addison County depends on migrant farm workers. In Middlebury, the police department has completely adopted this don't ask, don't tell policy.
"We're going to have to have some belief or reasonable suspicion that there's some sort of criminal activity afoot. We can't use, and don't use, race or ethnicity as an indication of criminal activity. There's got to be more," Middlebury Police Chief Tom Hanley said.
Despite several requests, the Vermont State police would not comment on the incident. Sorrell say it's likely the State police internal investigation will examine whether the trooper's line of questioning was compliant with its own bias-free guidelines and then whether the trooper acted appropriately with the information he received.
Troopers at the scene appeared confused about the policy and even consulted superiors before detaining the two men.
Sorrell admits there may be gray areas and hopes this incident will spark discussion with the State police about how these two policies could be streamlined.
"We want to be a state that continues to lead the nation in respecting human rights and civil rights-- that's our history dating back to the 1700s and no reason to change it now," Sorrell said.
The question now is what will the federal authorities do with these two undocumented workers? The men have been cited to appear in court, but it will be interesting to watch whether the court determines their violations fit into the federal priorities for enforcement or if the feds decide to look the other way.
What could happen to the trooper heavily depends on the outcome of the State police internal investigation. At this point we don't know if the trooper will face any disciplinary action. In terms of the attorney general's office, the bias-free policy is simply guidelines, not law, so nothing will happen to the trooper.
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