Advocates for minority groups in Maine said Tuesday they are satisfied that Westbrook police acted appropriately while assisting with a federal investigation into three Mexican restaurants raided last week.

Leaders of the groups met with Westbrook police Monday to discuss concerns about whether the department had practiced racial profiling in connection with the case. The groups included local chapters of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People and the American Civil Liberties Union.

On Sept. 21, federal agents raided Fajita Grill in Westbrook and Cancun Mexican restaurants in Biddeford and Waterville. They arrested the owners, brothers Guillermo and Hector Fuentes, on charges of conspiracy to harbor illegal aliens and employment of illegal aliens.

According to a complaint filed in federal court, the U.S. Department of Homeland Security began investigating the restaurants in 2008 after receiving a tip from Westbrook police Capt. Tom Roth.

Roth had told the agency that in recent routine traffic stops, Westbrook officers pulled over Hispanic men who appeared to work at Fajita Grill, claimed to be from Mexico and could not provide any U.S. identification, court documents say.

Police have not been able to provide details of those traffic stops because the department has since changed data entry systems and no longer has those records, said Public Safety Director Michael Pardue, who started working for the Westbrook department in 2010.

From conversations with other department members, Pardue said he believes there were two such traffic stops, one related to defective equipment on a vehicle. He said no one can recall the reason for the other stop.

Rachel Talbot Ross, state director of the NAACP, said though she’ll never know exactly what happened at those traffic stops, she was satisfied after the meeting that members of the Westbrook police don’t practice racial profiling.

Ross said she arranged the meeting after hearing about heightened fear within the Hispanic community following the raid. After meeting with Pardue, Roth and Spanish-speaking Officer Gus Rodriguez, she learned that Westbrook only provided officers at the scene at the request of the federal agency.

Blanca Santiago of Tengo Voz, a community organization that supports Hispanic women and their families, said there was a perception that Westbrook police were aiding in deporting people, and now she’s trying to dispel that notion.

Shenna Bellows, executive director of the American Civil Liberties Union of Maine, said she was pleased to hear at the meeting that Westbrook police have a policy against asking crime victims about their legal status.

Pardue said he would be glad to reach out to the Hispanic community to alleviate any anxiety.

“We’re here to assist people and that’s really how we look at each situation,” he said. “Ethnicity is not a factor.”

 

Staff Writer Leslie Bridgers can be contacted at: 791-6364 or at: [email protected]