A federal judge has thrown out evidence from a traffic stop by a Maine State Police corporal who has been accused of racial profiling.

Last year, a prosecutor dismissed a different criminal case after a cruiser microphone captured Cpl. John Darcy, who was then a state trooper, describing the Black man he was pulling over as “looking like a thug.”

His recorded comments increased scrutiny of his traffic stops, and defense attorneys and the American Civil Liberties Union of Maine began actively challenging arrests he had made in other cases.

Darcy, who is white and has since been promoted to corporal, has said in court that he does not pull people over because of their race. At least twice, judges have denied motions to suppress evidence from his stops despite his recorded comments.

But on Monday, U.S. District Judge Nancy Torresen said that she did not take Darcy to be a credible witness and that the dashcam video from his cruiser contradicted the reasons he gave for the traffic stop.

Her order was a sharp rebuke, though she did not directly mention racial profiling.

Defense attorneys Daphne Hallett Donahue and Grainne Dunne, who represent the passenger in the car that was pulled over, said they could not comment on the case, and they declined an interview request for their client.

The ACLU of Maine had submitted an amicus brief in support of the motion to suppress. Emma Bond, the organization’s legal director, wrote in an email that the case is “just one example of the racial profiling that is pervasive in Maine and across the country.”

“This order imposes necessary consequences for the illegal actions of the Maine State Police,” Bond said. “Officers are not allowed to fabricate reasons for pulling people over based on ‘gut feelings’ or the appearance of a driver. These ‘gut feelings’ are often the product of bias, and result in criminalizing people for driving while Black.”

The defendant in the case Torresen ruled on is charged with possession with intent to distribute fentanyl and heroin, but the judge’s order is likely to prevent the prosecutor from moving forward. Assistant U.S. Attorney Meghan Connolly said she is reviewing the judge’s decision and did not answer additional questions.

The head of the Maine State Police said in July that an internal review of more than 1,000 of Darcy’s traffic stops did not reveal a pattern of racial profiling, but the agency released no details of the findings. A staff attorney for the Maine State Police said the agency does not have any public records of discipline against Darcy related to the traffic stop that featured his recorded comments. The staff attorney denied a Freedom of Access Act request for the records included in the review, citing exceptions in the public records law for certain personnel records.

Shannon Moss, a spokeswoman for the Maine State Police, said in an email Tuesday that the agency is aware of Torresen’s decision.

“The judge’s suppression order was based on grounds that the trooper did not have reasonable articulable suspicion for the stop,” Moss said. “We will review the ruling and the supporting investigation documentation. It would be inappropriate for us to provide a statement without such a review.”

Moss also confirmed Darcy’s promotion in August.

LAWMAKER SEEKS INVESTIGATION

State Rep. Jeff Evangelos, an independent from Friendship, filed a complaint last year when the Maine State Police named Darcy the 2019 “Trooper of the Year.” After Torresen’s ruling, Evangelos wrote to state officials again.

“I’m demanding that this time you conduct a credible investigation of Darcy’s racist actions, which represent a stain on the reputation of the Maine State Police and the honest troopers that serve our state,” he wrote Tuesday in his email to Public Safety Commissioner Michael Sauschuck and Maine State Police Commander John Cote.

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 Interstate 95. The internal microphone in the cruiser captured his words to another trooper riding with him, moments before he stopped the man for driving in the middle lane of the three-lane highway without passing or overtaking any 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.

“This guy kinda looks like a thug, to be honest with you,” Darcy said in the recording.

He went on to say the driver in question looked “like a thug” because, “he’s wearing a wifebeater” (slang for a sleeveless white undershirt) and “he’s got dreads.” He then told the trooper he was riding with that he was not racially profiling the man.

When the man’s lawyer raised the recording in court documents, the prosecutor dismissed the charges without explanation.

Torresen’s order on Monday considered a traffic stop that had occurred in the same area just weeks before, on June 26, 2019. The driver and the passenger were both Black, and the driver had dreadlocks. When Darcy pulled the car over, he said the car swerved two or three times, crossing the fog line at 45 mph. He questioned both people in the car about their trip and eventually called a drug-sniffing dog to the scene. The order says the search uncovered heroin in a backpack in the trunk, and the passenger was later charged with possession with intent to distribute.

LEGALITY OF STOP CHALLENGED

The passenger’s defense attorneys challenged the legality of the traffic stop and accused Darcy of serial racial profiling. In one motion, Donahue questioned at least 11 traffic stops led by Darcy. She said those cases all involved people of color, and those stops appeared to be based on manufactured reasons or selective enforcement.

“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.”

Torresen held a hearing and ultimately granted the defense attorneys’ motion to suppress evidence. She said the government’s case failed “both on the facts and the law.” The video evidence, she said, contradicted all of the reasons Darcy gave for the traffic stop. Even if the car did briefly touch the fog line (the white line that divides the shoulder from the road), she said, that would not be a traffic violation. She ruled the traffic stop unconstitutional.

“I do not credit Darcy’s claim that (the driver’s) operation of the vehicle suggested impairment or distraction, in part because Darcy was generally not a very credible witness and in part because the video tells a different story,” Torresen wrote in her order. “There is nothing on the video that I would consider unsafe operation.”

Starting in 2023, law enforcement officers in Maine will be required to collect demographic data during traffic stops, a new statute meant to identify and prevent racial profiling. Bond, from the ACLU of Maine, referenced that upcoming change Tuesday.

“We need data to understand the scope of the problem, so that we can tailor appropriate solutions,” Bond said. “It is incumbent on Maine law enforcement agencies to wholeheartedly support and implement this law.”

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