The Maine State Police have a problem. It’s racial profiling.

For the second time in two years, drug trafficking prosecutions have blown up in court because of the involvement of Cpl. John Darcy. The 2019 Trooper of the Year has admitted to targeting drivers based on a “gut feeling” that they might be carrying drugs. In both cases, the driver he pulled over was Black.

The Constitution protects us from unreasonable searches. Racial profiling is against Maine law. But if that’s not enough to get the State Police to take this issue seriously, then losing these two cases might.

The state cannot expect to have its cases stand up in court if officers don’t respect the limits on their authority that are necessary in a free society.

Darcy has been a known problem for some time. In August 2019, he was recorded speaking with another state trooper about his reason for pulling over a motorist on the Maine Turnpike. Darcy said, “This guy kinda looks like a thug, to be honest with you,”  because “he’s wearing a wifebeater” (slang for a sleeveless white undershirt) and “he’s got dreads.”

Darcy pulled over the driver ostensibly for operating in the middle lane of a three-lane highway without passing. The trooper reported that he thought he smelled burned marijuana and called for a drug-sniffing dog. A subsequent search uncovered cocaine and pills, and the driver was charged with possession with intent to distribute.

But when the recording was brought up in court last year, prosecutors abruptly dropped the charges.

The recording was brought up again Monday by U.S. District Judge Nancy Torresen, who threw out evidence collected by Darcy in another questionable stop.

This time, the trooper pulled over a vehicle whose operator, he said, was driving too slow on the turnpike and was crossing the white “fog” line that separates the travel lane from the breakdown lane. After talking with the driver and passenger, he again called for the K-9 unit and found heroin.

But in her order, Torresen wrote that there was no evidence from Darcy’s dash camera that any law had been broken. She instead pointed to Darcy’s testimony in court, where he said he sometimes parks by the York tollbooth and follows cars if he has a “gut feeling” that the drivers might be committing a crime.

Combined with the 2019 recording, Torresen found that Darcy was not a credible witness and did not have justification for pulling over the vehicle and initiating a search.

Even if Darcy doesn’t pull over every Black driver, this is textbook racial profiling. “Gut feelings” is just another way of saying prejudice. No one should be deprived of their constitutional rights because of the way they look.

It’s true that drugs were found in both of these cases, but we have no idea how many innocent people have been pulled over, questioned and even searched just because officers like Darcy thought they looked like “thugs.”

It’s impossible to say how deep the problem is because of the secretive culture of the agency, which releases little about the disciplinary history of its officers. In July, the Maine Department of Public Safety announced that it had reviewed more than 1,000 of Darcy’s traffic stops and found no “pattern of targeting of motorists based on race,” but it did not release any information to support the finding, citing state law and collective bargaining agreements.

Defense lawyers, however, will not be bound by confidentiality, and they will be taking a hard look at the basis for traffic stops that lead to arrests.

If more judges decide, like Torresen, that they cannot trust the justifications provided by state troopers, maybe the Maine State Police will realize that they have a problem.


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