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Friday, August 22, 2014

Racial profiling trials nears end for Alamance sheriff

Posted by on Fri, Aug 22, 2014 at 12:24 PM

After several hours of testimony Thursday, Alamance County Sheriff Terry Johnson seemed to finally be getting annoyed.

U.S. Department of Justice attorney Michael Songer questioned Johnson's 30-year career with the N.C. State Bureau of Investigation prior to his election as Alamance sheriff, bringing particular attention to his apparently ignominious end as a top coordinator for the SBI's Drug Abuse Resistance Education program.

As Songer pointed out Thursday, the bureau accused Johnson of filing a false claim, later reporting him to be "insubordinate" and "untruthful" following an investigation. Johnson explained Thursday that the claim stemmed from an incident in which he said American Airlines lost his luggage while on a work trip, forcing him to buy replacement clothing. Johnson said he wrote a letter to the airline using DARE stationary, and the airline mailed him a check later for the clothing he was forced to purchase. According to the sheriff, the airline later claimed it never sent a check.

After he was told not to represent the SBI in any DARE meetings, Johnson drew criticism later from the bureau for attending another DARE meeting. However, the sheriff said he was merely attending the meeting because his wife was the organization's secretary.

It was a confusing end to the sheriff's testimony, which covered his leadership of the Alamance County Sheriff's Office. Johnson denied many of the allegations in the suit, specifically claiming that he did not tell deputies to arrest Latinos rather than cite them for traffic offenses. He said he told deputies to bring in anyone who they could not identify.

DOJ prosecutors are seeking to impose federal oversight of Johnson's office, which is accused of racially profiling Latino residents in an effort to increase deportations.

Prosecutors spent an hour Thursday wrangling over a recording of a conversation Johnson had with a former deputy six years ago. DOJ attorneys said they obtained the tape Aug. 9, well after the conclusion of the trial's discovery period, which is when the prosecution compiles evidence that it must provide to the defense. Owing to the late arrival of the tape, prosecutors were hoping the judge would grant an exception allowing them to play the tape in court, but District Court Judge Thomas Schroeder denied that request.

The prosecution also questioned Johnson about the decision by his office to delete a tape that included an undercover deputy using a racial slur, but the sheriff said that deputy was disciplined for his action.

Both sides are expected to wrap their case Friday, but it's unclear when Judge Schroeder will make a decision.

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