The American Civil Liberties Union is investigating a Rhode Island state trooper who apprehended 14 illegal immigrants during a traffic stop, charging "racial profiling" and insisting the officer had no right to ask for ID.
The Rhode Island affiliate of the ACLU filed the case after the driver and several passengers alleged Trooper Thomas Chabot overstepped his authority during the July 11 traffic stop by taking immigration enforcement into his own hands, the Providence Journal reported.
However, asking for identification during traffic stops is a department procedure, and when the passengers could not provide valid ID, Chabot contacted officials with the Department of Homeland Security's Immigration and Customs Enforcement division.
The federal authorities eventually determined the 14 passengers entered the U.S. illegally and now face deportation.
The complaint by the ACLU, an advocate of rights for illegals, also alleged Chabot threatened to shoot anyone who tried to escape the van as it was escorted to Providence by federal agents, the Journal reported.
Chabot, posted at a speed checkpoint, stopped the van's driver for failing to signal a lane change. After the driver provided him with a license and ID, the trooper asked the passengers for identification. Only a few could do so, prompting him to ask if any could prove their citizenship, according to his report.
The complainants seeking a probe, Astrid and Wendy Cabrera, charge Chabot engaged in "racial profiling."
"We believe that our van was pulled over, at least in part, because of our ethnicity," their compaint says. "As passengers, we also object that we were required to provide identification and asked about our immigration status, even though we had done nothing wrong. We do not think the trooper had any right to force us to go to ICE headquarters. We believe we were treated unfairly."
Steven Brown, executive director for the ACLU, said his group is seeking an internal review "because we find the incident as described in the complaint quite troubling."
He called the traffic stop "an egregious case of racial profiling, from beginning to end," the Providence paper reported.
The complaint also asks for clarification of state policies regarding how police collaborate with the Bureau of Immigration and Customs Enforcement.
A preliminary review of the case did not corroborate the Cabreras' account of the incident, particularly with regard to the trooper's alleged threat to shoot anyone who tried to escape the van, the Journal said.
"You should know, we take any allegation, and I stress allegation, seriously but our preliminary investigation did not bear any fruit, particularly regarding these threats," said Maj. Steven O'Donnell, a state police spokesman..
O'Donnell said the preliminary review was based in part on the in-car videotape that was running during the incident.
Chabot remains on duty, O'Donnell said.
"Anybody has a right to file a complaint; it doesn't mean it has merit," he said. "We don't react by disciplining someone where it's an allegation. That is different from, for example, situations where a trooper is suspended from duty pending investigation of a suspect's shooting."