The U.S. Attorney’s Office dismissed a criminal case last month after the defense attorney pointed to a video of the traffic stop as evidence of racial profiling by a Maine state trooper.

That traffic stop is now under review and other attorneys are scrutinizing the trooper’s record related to additional cases.

“The act of racial profiling by law enforcement is illegal, and the Maine State Police do not condone it in any way, shape, or form,” Maine State Police Col. John Cote said in a written statement provided by an attorney. “The traffic stop in question is under internal review by the Maine State Police as we strive to serve and protect our state and citizens with honor, integrity, and fidelity to law in all we do.”

Maine State Trooper John Darcy pulled over a Black man who was driving north through York on Interstate 95 on Aug. 15, 2019. The internal microphone in the cruiser recorded his comments to another trooper moments before the traffic stop, and they are quoted in multiple motions later filed in the U.S. District Court in Portland.

“This guy kinda looks like a thug to be honest with you,” Darcy said, according to a transcript in one motion.

Darcy went on to say the driver in question looked “like a thug” because “he’s wearing a wifebeater” and “he’s got dreads.” A “wifebeater” is a reference to a sleeveless white shirt. He then tells the other trooper that he is not racially profiling the man.

“I hate when people try to make it seem like that’s what it is,” Darcy said. “I care about where people are from, and the way they seem … you know what I mean? Do they seem like they can be involved in drug dealing or gangs or something. I don’t give a (expletive) if someone’s black or white.”

The Portland Press Herald has filed a public records request for the tape.

Court documents describe what happened next. Darcy pulled over Terrel Walker of Orono for driving in the middle lane of the three-lane highway without passing or overtaking any other vehicles. Maine law says that drivers should stay in the right-hand lane when the speed limit is greater than 65 mph unless they are passing other vehicles.

According to an affidavit, the trooper smelled “burnt marijuana” and saw a marijuana cigarette in the ashtray when he approached the car. He called a K-9 unit to the scene, and a search uncovered cocaine and pills. Walker, who was 28 at the time, was later charged with possession of cocaine with intent to distribute and holding a counterfeit drug for sale. He pleaded not guilty to all charges against him in December.

The case was repeatedly delayed because of the COVID-19 pandemic. In July, defense attorney Leonard Sharon filed five motions related to the trooper’s recorded comments, including a motion to suppress evidence from the traffic stop and a motion to dismiss the case for egregious police misconduct.

“This Court has the opportunity to close its courtroom to these prosecutions,” Sharon wrote. “Our Courts should not dignify these prosecutions of black people who fall prey to racial profiling or any citizen who has been unfairly profiled because of their hairstyle and clothing. The price our country pays for this behavior has proven excessive.”

Two months later, in September, Assistant U.S. Attorney Meghan Connolly filed a motion to dismiss the indictment. She did not explain in detail the reasons for doing so, and a spokesman for the U.S. Attorney’s Office said he could not disclose anything more than what was in the motion. The judge granted that motion Sept. 22.

“Upon further review and careful consideration of the facts and the law, the government believes that dismissal of the Indictment would be in the best interests of justice,” the prosecutor’s motion said.

Sharon said Connolly did not explain her decision in detail to him, but she told him the case would be dismissed even though the office felt it could win a hearing over the motion to suppress.

“I think they decided to take the high road and not to advocate that this type of behavior should be tolerated,” he said.

Sharon said he would pass an interview request to his client but did not respond by Wednesday.

“It’s like having lightning strike when someone actually states a reason like that, is bold enough to state that knowing they are being recorded,” Sharon said in an interview. “That alarmed me.”

The recording of Darcy’s comments is not included in the public court file. Christopher Parr, an attorney for the Maine State Police, acknowledged a public records request for that recording Monday but did not say whether it would be released. He also said he would review a request for a copy of Darcy’s personnel file, and he said the Maine State Police would not make the trooper available for an interview.

This case is not the first time Darcy’s decisions have been questioned in court.

Court documents show that Darcy stopped Anthony Jones on the Maine Turnpike on Sept. 30, 2019, for an inspection sticker that had expired four months prior. Defense attorney Peter Rodway said the trooper made no effort to address that expired sticker and instead questioned Jones and his passenger about their travels. He checked their names in a computer database and learned the passenger had prior convictions for possessing and trafficking drugs. Darcy then called a K-9 unit and eventually found drugs in the car. Jones was charged in federal court with possession with intent to distribute heroin and cocaine. He has pleaded not guilty.

Rodway filed a motion to suppress evidence from the traffic stop. He argued that Darcy detained Jones and his passenger for much longer than was necessary to address the expired sticker. The attorney also filed a motion for discovery, asking for extensive records about Darcy’s history as a state trooper, including information about the race or ethnicity of the drivers he has stopped. He indicated that his client is a Black man.

“There was simply no reasonable suspicion that anything illegal was afoot that could justify the Trooper requiring Mr. Jones to step out of his vehicle,” Rodway wrote in the motion. “Accordingly, this case seemingly involves an instance of racial profiling.”

A federal judge denied that request for records, but Rodway filed another motion asking him to reconsider. Rodway did not respond to messages at his office Monday and Tuesday. The motion to suppress is still pending.

“Thus, the issue is whether the Trooper orders every person that he stops, regardless of race, out of the car, and whether he detains every person that he stops for a prolonged period of time, while he waits for a drug dog to show up,” Rodway wrote. “Or is it only the young African-American motorists that are subjected to such treatment by this Trooper?”

In his latest motion, Rodway pointed to two other cases as evidence of a pattern. The first was Walker’s case. The second was a case in state court last year, when a judge threw out evidence from another traffic stop by Darcy.

Defense attorney Joe Mekonis represented that defendant, who Mekonis said was also a Black man. He also said he is currently handling two similar cases that involve Darcy. One client is a Black man; the other is a white woman. The attorney said he is doing his own research into Darcy’s record of traffic stops because he wants to see if a pattern emerges.

“I’m challenging his decision-making on why he stops and who he stops,” Mekonis said.

Parr, the state police attorney, said Darcy is on regular duty status. Parr did not answer a question about whether the internal review includes any other traffic stops by Darcy.

“As matter of general practice, the Maine State Police routinely reviews Troopers’ traffic stops in efforts to improve performance,” he wrote in an email.

This case is also not the first time state troopers have come under scrutiny for alleged profiling. Another defense attorney accused two different state troopers of racial profiling after they pulled over a van of Spanish-speaking men on Interstate 295 in 2017. The trooper cited a crack in the windshield and a passenger without a seatbelt as reasons for that stop.

Videos captured Troopers Richard Burke and Jay Cooley ridiculing the passengers and calling them “disgusting.”

“This is the (expletive) ICE motha load right here,” Burke told Cooley when he arrived as backup. “Fourteen of ’em. Not one of them speaks English. Drivers – No driver’s licenses. ICE is gonna be coming out here with their (expletive) SWAT team on this one. I just need you to watch them. They’re all (expletive) sketchy as hell.”

“ICE” is the acronym for U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement.

A Honduran man who was a passenger was detained during that stop. A federal judge in Portland ruled that the traffic stop was legal, and Mario Ernesto Garcia-Zavala was ultimately convicted of illegally re-entering the United States after being deported in 2014. Defense attorney Rob Andrews took the case to the 1st U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, but the panel of judges agreed with the lower court.

Related Headlines

Comments are not available on this story.