Saturday, October 1, 2005
Profiling is charged in drug case
Lawrence man held since 2001
By Shaun Sutner TELEGRAM & GAZETTE STAFF
Experts on racial profiling, mathematics and statistics dueled yesterday in a lengthy court hearing to determine if a judge made the right decision two years ago in throwing out evidence and an admission in the drug arrest of a Hispanic man on Interstate 290 in Auburn.
On Sept. 18, 2003, Superior Court Judge John S. McCann ruled inadmissible as evidence two pounds of cocaine that Andres Lora, now 55, of Lawrence, had in his car when state Trooper Brendan Shugrue stopped the vehicle for a left-lane violation two years earlier. While the judge said it was appropriate to stop the car, he ruled that the search that turned up the drugs could have been motivated by racial profiling, the practice of unfairly singling out suspects because of race.
Mr. Lora, a dark-skinned Dominican immigrant, has been held without bail at the Worcester County Jail and House of Correction since his arrest Dec. 20, 2001. Yesterday, prosecutors tried to get Judge McCann to reverse his decision, arguing that Mr. Lora's civil rights had not been violated.
Mr. Lora's lawyer, Michael H. Erlich, argued that his client had been targeted because of his ethnicity and the suppression of evidence should stand. He pointed out that the state Legislature recently enacted a law requiring police to record the race of drivers they stop.
"This statute was designed because the Legislature found a problem in the state with regard to racial profiling," Mr. Erlich said.
Testimony centered on whether statistics compiled by Mr. Erlich from 263 traffic stops showed that Trooper Shugrue stopped and searched the vehicles of a disproportionate number of minorities over a four-month period before and after Mr. Lora's arrest in 2001.
An expert witness for the defense, Scott Evans, a Harvard School of Public Health biostatistician, testified that an "exact" statistical test demonstrates a strong association between race and the vehicle stops the trooper made in Auburn.
Sixteen, or 31 percent, of the stops in Auburn were of Hispanics, while in other communities, Hispanics accounted for only 6 percent of the stops.
The data compiled by Mr. Erlich also included demographic data for Auburn showing the town with 15,482 whites, 150 Hispanics and 110 blacks. Based on that, the trooper stopped Hispanics far out of proportion to their numbers as residents.
"The only difference in his actions would be race," Mr. Evans said.
However, in his cross-examination of Mr. Evans, Assistant District Attorney James R. Lemire, questioned his reliance on Mr. Erlich's data and noted that Mr. Evans did not examine the actual traffic citations.
Mr. Lemire argued that the racial composition of drivers on the highway that passes through Auburn could differ greatly from the town itself, which would skew Mr. Evan's analysis. He noted that 90 percent of the vehicles Trooper Shugrue stopped were from out of town, and 30 percent were from out of state.
"I don't have demographics for the highway," Mr. Evans said.
Mr. Lemire noted that 15 of the 16 left-lane violation stops Trooper Shugrue made in Auburn were after dark, suggesting that the trooper did not know the race of the drivers.
A prosecution witness, Northeastern University criminal justice professor Donna Bishop, criticized the use of what she termed census-based data such as that employed by the defense as a "baseline" against which to judge officers' vehicle stop patterns.
She maintained that the only accurate way to uncover racial profiling by police is to compare the actions of individual officers to the rest of the officers in a department or to record drivers' ethnicity by observing actual driving patterns.
"It is inappropriate to use the percent of stops that involve minorities and compare them across jurisdictions to establish bias," she said. "That sort of comparison is of no value. That method of benchmarking is outmoded because it is highly likely to yield erroneous conclusions."
Another prosecution witness, WPI mathematics professor Joseph Petruccelli, testified that the defense statistical approach was "very questionable." To be valid, the trooper's data "should come from some group like the population of drivers on 290."
The judge said he will likely issue his decision in November or December. The next court date is Nov. 21.
Contact Shaun Sutner by e-mail at [email protected]
This is an absolute disgrace. Just another way to get an obviously guilty drug dealer off. Gotta love those racial profiling studies, they are working wonders keeping our streets safe!!!