The chief of the Maine State Police says an internal review of more than 1,000 traffic stops revealed no pattern of racial profiling by a trooper who described a Black man he was pulling over as “looking like a thug.”

That stop led to a drug trafficking arrest, but the U.S. Attorney’s Office dropped the charges after the defense attorney pointed to Trooper John Darcy’s comments captured on a cruiser microphone as evidence of racial profiling. Since then, lawyers have used the recording to challenge other traffic stops and criminal cases involving Darcy. The trooper, who is white, recently testified in one such case and denied that he stops drivers based on their race.

Col. John Cote, the chief of the state police, said the U.S. Attorney’s Office contacted the Maine State Police in August 2020 about “concerning comments” Darcy made in the moments before the traffic stop on Interstate 95. The agency began an internal review by its Office of Professional Standards and with the help of the Maine Attorney General’s Office. Cote described that investigation in a one-page statement released Tuesday.

“The investigation included several interviews and a thorough examination of over 1,000 traffic stops conducted by Trooper Darcy,” Cote wrote. “The investigation resulted in no evidence of any pattern of targeting of motorists based on race, or any other trait common to a protected group.”

Cote said profiling based on bias or discrimination is “strictly prohibited.”

“Our agency also requires that persons are only stopped or detained when legal authority exists to do so and that members of our agency base their enforcement actions solely on a person’s conduct and behavior or specific suspect information,” he said.

Shannon Moss, a spokeswoman for the Maine Department of Public Safety, said the review included all traffic stops from all of 2019 and most of 2020. The colonel’s statement does not include details about the traffic stops or data to support the finding of the review, and Moss said she would not release any further information beyond the statement because of “Maine law and current collective bargaining agreements.” The Portland Press Herald has filed a public records request for the documents included in the review.

A staff attorney said the Maine State Police does not have any public records of discipline against Darcy related to the traffic stop.

Rep. Jeffrey Evangelos, an independent from Friendship, filed a complaint this year asking that the state investigate Darcy’s conduct after he was awarded the 2019 Trooper of the Year Award.

Contacted Tuesday evening, Evangelos said he was not surprised that the Maine Department of Public Safety cleared Darcy.

“I think (the report’s finding) is business as usual in this police state,” Evangelos said during a telephone interview. “It’s unbelievable what the police in Maine get away with. ”

Evangelos said the Legislature “needs to grow a spine” and embrace criminal justice reform. He’d like to see the practice of police agencies investigating themselves abolished and possibly replaced with some type of civilian oversight board.

“This is why officers are never held accountable. They investigate themselves,” Evangelos said.

An outside expert on racial profiling by law enforcement said Tuesday that it would be impossible for him to assess the Maine Department of Public Safety’s review without having more details about the traffic stops or data that support the state’s findings about Darcy’s conduct performing his duties.

“That said, it is exceedingly rare (virtually unheard of) for police racial profiling complaints to be sustained by internal or external oversight bodies,” University of California, Berkeley professor Jack Glaser said in an email. “That is probably due to the lack of a clear standard of evidence, and that for complaints to be sustained there generally has to be evidence of an overt expression of intent to profile.”

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.

An associate dean at UC Berkeley’s Goldman School of Public Policy, Glaser is a social psychologist whose primary research interest is in stereotyping, prejudice and discrimination. He is particularly interested in racial profiling by police. Glaser also is the author of “Suspect Race: Causes and Consequences of Racial Profiling.”

Though he said it is not uncommon for law enforcement agencies to do their own internal reviews, a growing number of cities and counties have established civilian oversight boards to conduct reviews of police conduct.

“(The civilian boards) are more likely to sustain complaints, but it’s still unusual for racial profiling complaints to get sustained. I don’t know of any state police that have a civilian oversight board,” Glaser said.

The recording of Darcy came from a traffic stop on Aug. 15, 2019, when he 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.

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 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. Daphne Hallett 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.”

Darcy testified about his recorded comments earlier this month in a separate case. In that case, the defense attorney has filed a motion to suppress evidence from one of his traffic stops. The judge has not yet issued a ruling.

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

Staff Writer Dennis Hoey contributed to this report.

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