A Maine State Police trooper took the stand for the first time Thursday to answer questions about allegations of racial profiling during his traffic stops on Interstate 95.

A prosecutor dismissed a criminal case last year after a cruiser microphone captured Trooper John Darcy describing the Black man he was pulling over as “looking like a thug.” Darcy, who is white, denied that he stops drivers because of their race.

But the federal judge presiding over a separate case allowed a defense attorney to cross-examine Darcy on Thursday about his recorded comments. Other lawyers and the American Civil Liberties Union of Maine are actively challenging past arrests made by Darcy on the same basis.

“Trooper Darcy has what the defense now knows to be a pattern of manufacturing reasons to stop and impermissibly detaining and searching people of color, particularly as they drive on Interstate 95 near York, Maine,” assistant federal public defender Daphne Hallett Donahue wrote in one motion.

The Maine State Police conducted a review of the traffic stop that involved his recorded comments but said earlier this year that the findings are confidential. State police also have not made Darcy available for an interview. So when he testified in U.S. District Court in Portland on Thursday during a hearing on a motion to suppress evidence from one of his stops, he was making his first public comments about the accusations against him.

“When I used the word ‘thug,’ I was referencing a person involved in criminal activity,” Darcy said Thursday. “The purpose of what I was trying to say was … race wouldn’t matter in anything we do.”

The recording in question came from a traffic stop on Aug. 15, 2019. Darcy, who is white, pulled over a Black man who was driving north through York on I-95. The internal microphone in the cruiser caught Darcy’s comments to another trooper moments before the stop, and they have since been quoted in motions filed in that case and others.

“This guy kinda looks like a thug to be honest with you,” Darcy said to an unidentified trooper riding with him.

This video contains vulgar language. Trooper John Darcy is heard speaking with an unidentified trooper and can later be seen questioning the driver of a vehicle he pulled over. Darcy later found drugs in the car, but the case was dropped after the video was introduced as evidence of what the defense attorney called racial profiling.

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 T-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.”

Darcy then stopped the man 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. A search uncovered cocaine and pills, and the driver was eventually charged in federal court with possession of cocaine with intent to distribute and holding a counterfeit drug for sale. When the man’s lawyer raised the recording, the prosecutor dismissed the charges without explanation.

Other attorneys have since used the recording to challenge other traffic stops and criminal cases involving Darcy. They have asked the court to suppress evidence from those stops and order the government to produce records about Darcy’s policing.

In one case, the federal defender’s office filed motions in April that called into question at least 11 traffic stops led by Darcy. Donahue, the public defender, wrote in her motion that those cases all involved people of color, and the stops appear to be based on manufactured reasons or selective enforcement. She said she believes that pattern extends to the state police’s Proactive Criminal Enforcement team, which includes Darcy and focuses on intercepting illegal drugs coming into Maine, and she made a sweeping request for information about their work.

“These are likely just some of many examples of Trooper Darcy’s predatory, race-based, policing strategies,” Donahue wrote. “There are likely many other people of color driving northbound in the state of Maine who have been subjected to this type of unconstitutional search and seizure, but who are ultimately permitted to continue their trip because the searches yield nothing.”

The ACLU of Maine echoed those arguments in an amicus brief.

“By emphasizing the need for officers to be truthful and by explicitly recognizing the racist bent to Trooper Darcy’s training, experience and inferences, the Court can rewrite the rulebook that is currently in circulation, at least among the Maine State Police Pro-Active Enforcement Team,” that brief says.

The U.S. Attorney’s Office has not yet filed a response to those motions.

Among the cases cited by the federal defender’s office is the one that was dismissed last year. Another is that of Damon Fagan.

Court documents show Darcy pulled Fagan over on I-95 in 2019 after he allegedly cut off a tractor-trailer. He requested a narcotics dog that was brought to the scene. The trooper later found drugs on the man, and he was charged with possession with intent to distribute heroin. U.S. District Judge D. Brock Hornby rejected a motion to suppress evidence from that traffic stop last year, but reopened the matter so the attorneys could question Darcy under oath about his recorded comments. That hearing took place Thursday.

“Trooper Darcy, does a person’s race play a conscious role in your decision whether to pull them over for a traffic infraction?” Assistant U.S. Attorney Nicholas Scott asked him.

“No,” Darcy answered.

Scott argued that the trooper stopped Fagan for making an unsafe lane change, not for any subjective intention.

“Overall, what the evidence in this case shows is that Trooper Darcy had lawful basis to stop the defendant,” Scott said.

Defense attorney David Bobrow pointed both to the recorded comments and a message Darcy sent to another trooper before he stopped Fagan: “I’m on the hunt tonight.”

“Why does that cast doubt on his credibility?” Bobrow said. “For the simple reason that it casts doubt on his motivations.”

Hornby did not make a ruling at the hearing and said he would issue an order at a later date.

Before Darcy stepped down from the witness stand, Bobrow also asked him about a traffic stop he made about an hour before he pulled over Fagan. The trooper testified that he called for a narcotics dog to conduct a search in that stop as well, but the dog was not available, and ultimately he did not arrest anyone from that vehicle.

“Do you recall the race of the operator?” Bobrow asked.

“I do not,” Darcy answered.

“If I were to tell you that it was a Black male, would that surprise you?” the attorney asked.

The prosecutor objected, and Darcy ended his testimony without answering the question.

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