Exciting news regarding the proposed class action lawsuit that the Montana Immigrant Justice Alliance (“MIJA”) filed against the Montana Highway Patrol in October 2013, alleging the patrol had engaged in a practice of detaining Latino drivers and passengers for the purpose of checking into their immigration status:
On April 4, 2014, the Montana Department of Justice announced an agreement with plaintiffs to resolve a lawsuit that challenged the manner in which the Montana Highway Patrol (MHP) handled traffic stops involving people suspected of being in the U.S. illegally. The agreement was reached between Attorney General Tim Fox, MHP Colonel Tom Butler, and Attorneys Shahid Haque-Hausrath of the Border Crossing Law Firm, P.C. and Brian Miller of Morrison, Sherwood, Wilson & Deola, PLLP, who represented the plaintiffs in this lawsuit.
A final judgment was entered by U.S. District Court Judge Dana L. Christensen, and can be downloaded here.
The Montana Department of Justice settled a lawsuit Friday filed against the Montana Highway Patrol alleging troopers routinely racially profiled Latinos and violated federal law by detaining them on minor traffic charges so they could verify their immigration status.
A group of Latinos led by Jose Rios-Diaz and the Montana Immigrant Justice Alliance, a nonprofit in Helena that defends the civil rights of immigrants, filed the case in 2013.
The plaintiffs agreed to the settlement because it stipulates that all troopers will be taught a new policy specifically instructing them to never use race as pretext for detaining a person to verify their immigration status, nor arrest a person solely because the person lacks immigration documentation, according to documents filed Friday in U.S. District Court.
Under the new policy, troopers cannot ask about immigration status based solely on a person’s race, ethnicity or language abilities. Nor can they demand drivers or passengers tell them their immigration status or detain people who choose not to answer.
According to one trooper’s written testimony submitted as evidence in the initial complaint, former MHP Col. Kenton Hicketheir had told him to do exactly that.
“In one instance Hickethier ordered me to arrest suspects I believed might be illegally in the country regardless of whether the facts supported an offense for which a person could be arrested under Montana law,” wrote Trooper Glenn Quinnelll in 2011. “His instructions were to get them to jail one way or another so federal authorities could place detainers on them.”
Hicketheir resigned from the MHP’s top post in 2013 after an investigation into discrimination against subordinates.
Friday’s settlement was signed by U.S. District Judge Dana Christensen. It does not find the MHP guilty of wrongdoing.
MHP’s Col. Tom Butler denied any discrimination in a prepared statement.
“While we believe that we have always done what the law requires, the lawsuit prompted us to enshrine in policy what has already been the practice in the field,” Butler said.
A dash cam video posted on Youtube by Shahid Haque-Hasrath, the plaintiff’s attorney, showed how a MHP trooper turned a speeding ticket stop into a 50-minute immigration check. The man was a U.S. citizen.
“We hope that police departments throughout the state use this policy as an example, and train their officers that they cannot demand that Latinos show them their papers, or detain people just to check their immigration status,” Haque-Hasrath said in a joint statement with the Department of Justice.
The DOJ also agreed to hire an independent police auditor and produce annual reports on MHP’s efforts to prevent racial profiling, and record all trooper contacts with the Department of Homeland Security.
In 2010, Arizona enacted Senate Bill 1070, a bill that required all aliens to carry their government paperwork with them and allowed state law enforcement agencies to inspect it during a lawful stop if there was suspicion that the person was in the country illegally. Critics panned it as a license to racially profile and an institutionalization of racial discrimination. Parts of the law were later struck down by the U.S. Supreme Court.
The Montana Legislature has not given Montana Highway Patrol any similar authority. The settlement comes two months before the plaintiff’s motion for certification as a class action lawsuit was set to be heard by the court. If certified, the plaintiffs could have publicly solicited others to join the case.