The McHenry County Sheriff’s Office has concluded after an internal investigation that Hispanic drivers are not disproportionately pulled over and there is no evidence of racial profiling.
The investigation was launched because of a civil rights lawsuit filed by former deputy Zane Seipler, who said he was fired for being a whistle-blower. Seipler has accused deputies of deliberately misidentifying Hispanics to hide racial profiling.
As part of the sheriff’s department investigation, a review of traffic statistics from 2007 to 2009 was conducted, looking at each ticket individually.
According to the findings, 13.6 percent of Hispanics – including apparent Hispanics who were marked as Caucasian – were given citations in 2007. That figure was 12.4 percent in 2008 and 11.2 percent in 2009.
Data from the 2010 census put the Hispanic or Latino population in McHenry County at 11.5 percent, up from 7.5 percent in 2000.
Assuming all citations with no race marked were issued to Hispanic drivers, the number of Hispanics ticketed would be 20.6 percent, 17.5 percent, and 15.8 percent for the years 2007 through 2009, respectively. There were other significant findings in the Sheriff’s Office investigation, including:
• Four deputies routinely “mismarked” drivers with Hispanic surnames as Caucasian.
• Sixteen deputies failed to consistently complete racial data.
• Deputies generally lack uniform guidelines on how to determine a driver’s race for purposes of completing racial data.
Seipler’s attorney, Blake Horwitz, said that he and his client were thankful that an investigation was performed, but that the conclusions fell short.
“Misidentifying the race of hundreds of individuals who are obviously Hispanic, based on their facial characteristics and language, for example, obviously demonstrates racial profiling and the desire to hide information,” Horwitz said.
Those who misidentified drivers’ races should be disciplined, he said.
“Instead they are promoted,” Horwitz said. “And that’s absurd.”
An immigrant advocacy group, the Illinois Coalition for Immigrant and Refugee Rights, has written to the U.S. Department of Justice’s civil division asking for it to conduct an investigation. The organization has accused the sheriff’s office of “hunting Mexicans” and systematically misclassifying Latinos as white.
ICIRR Executive Director Joshua Hoyt didn’t lend any credence to the internal investigation.
“This is like the fox certified that while he drinks chicken blood, he doesn’t eat chicken,” Hoyt said. “We’ll wait for an independent evaluation.”
Sheriff Keith Nygren said that the data spoke for itself.
“The truth has a nice ring to it because it is the truth,” he said.
A total of 51 current deputies were flagged for interviews based on benchmarks for filling out traffic stop information.
For example, deputies who ticketed more than 5 percent of the department’s average of Hispanic drivers were asked why, but were unable to explain. They said they did not stop vehicles based on the driver’s race, and most said they worked primarily at night and could not see the driver’s race until making contact.
When it came to deputies with the highest percentage of tickets written to drivers with Hispanic surnames marked as Caucasian, one said he was taught to only mark people as Hispanic if they said or showed documentation that they were – otherwise he would mark them as Caucasian.
Others said no one ever went through the requirements that explained how to determine a driver’s race, or that they might have made mistakes, but denied trying to hide any wrongdoing.
Sheriff Keith Nygren said that “I don’t know” wasn’t an acceptable answer to him, but that some of their explanations were viable.
“We’re asking police officers to make subjective judgments,” he said. “You can’t ask [the drivers], ‘Are you Latino?’ That violates the law.”
With regard to incomplete information on tickets, one reason commonly given during interviews was that when a traffic citation resulted in an arrest, deputies thought the information would be completed during booking or forgot about it once the person was turned over to booking. Some deputies also filled out the back of the ticket at the end of their shift, rather than after the stop.
“What we need to do is audit the tickets,” Nygren said. “Make sure that the names match the races, but make sure that information is being submitted by everyone. ... We can do better in terms of auditing and training.”
Recent media attention to the accusations likely has increased the perception within the Hispanic community that racial profiling is happening. Outreach needs to continue to show that this is not the case, Nygren said.
“The accusation was that racial profiling was rampant,” he said. “That wasn’t true, and it’s not true today.”