ACLU urges MSP to investigate I-94 traffic stops

GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. (WOOD) — The American Civil Liberties Union is urging state police to investigate possible racial profiling along along I-94.

In a letter to the director of Michigan State Police, the ACLU of Michigan is asking the state police to “conduct a comprehensive agency-wide review of race and traffic stops to identify any patterns that may exist.” They are urging state police to make the results of the study public.

After receiving multiple complaints of possible racial profiling along I-94, the ACLU filed a Freedom of Information Act request for MSP records of traffic stops made by the 5th District Hometown Security Team. The 5th District covers the southwest portion of the state, which includes Allegan, Barry, Berrien, Branch, Cass, Calhoun, Kalamazoo, St. Joseph and Van Buren counties.

“The two most striking of these reports were by individuals who did not know each other, who were stopped on separate days, but who reported a narrative that was almost identical,” said Mark Fancher, a staff attorney for the ACLU’s Racial Justice Project.

That narrative is the drivers were stopped for following semis on I-94 too closely. The drivers were asked to get out of their cars and were searched while a K-9 sniffed for drugs. Both drivers were eventually released without any charges.

Fancher says based on his random review of records, 50 percent of the people who were pulled over along I-94 in the first quarter of 2017 were African-American; 24 percent were white; and 28 percent were not recorded at all.

“So, that really created some concerns for us, even above and beyond those that we already had, and that’s what prompted us to send the letter,” said Fancher.

But Fancher and the ACLU acknowledge they don’t know the demographics of those who drive I-94.

“We don’t,” Fancher said. “And it’s for that reason that we stopped short of making any type of accusation that racial profiling is going on.”

In response, MSP issued a written statement, promising to perform what it’s calling a “pro-active” assessment. “If a trooper is accused of stopping a motorist without proper grounds, a thorough and objective internal investigation will be conducted,” the statement said.

“Whether they do that or not, we do plan to continue our own investigation,” said Fancher.