Judge: No policy of profiling.
A federal judge on Monday ruled there is no evidence of any Eugene police policy that approves of racial profiling by officers, which was the centerpiece in a $1 million lawsuit filed by a young black man after an officer stopped and searched him - but not his four white companions - outside a night club two years ago.
The ruling, contained in a 22-page order released late Monday afternoon, nevertheless allows the lawsuit to go forward with the focus narrowed to the conduct of officer Wayne Dorman in the early morning hours of Sept. 5, 2004, when Dorman stopped Cortez Jordan, then 25.
Dorman has contended that he reasonably suspected Jordan was carrying a gun in his waistband, based on the way Jordan was walking as he crossed the street. However, Jordan and his companions contend Jordan was walking with his hands swinging freely and that he acted no differently from the rest of the group.
A Eugene police investigation cleared Dorman of any wrongdoing. The incident outraged minority leaders and prompted several members of the city's racial profiling task force to resign in protest.
In his ruling, U.S. Magistrate Judge Tom Coffin noted the law requires evidence in his pre-trial ruling to be weighed in a light most favorable to Jordan. To dismiss Jordan's claim against the city, Coffin wrote that he must decide whether a jury could reasonably conclude the city approves of racial profiling by police, or that it fails to discipline officers who do so.
"(Jordan) has not provided evidence from which a reasonable jury could conclude that any of the above policies exist," Coffin wrote.
Jordan's lawyer, Kevin Lafky of Salem, argued that the city's own investigation of Jordan's case was proof that Eugene officers are not disciplined for racial profiling. But Coffin ruled the investigation, by itself, was not evidence of a policy favoring racial profiling.
Lafky also contended that a study of Eugene police traffic stops from 2002, which showed young men of color are significantly more likely to be stopped than white men, was evidence of a policy of discrimination.
But Coffin ruled the traffic stop study was "materially different" from the circumstances in Jordan's lawsuit. Specifically, Coffin noted Eugene police had been aware of violent crimes occurring at the night club and of rumors that club patrons were arming themselves.
Nevertheless, Coffin allowed the lawsuit to proceed on Jordan's claims against Dorman. Coffin ruled it will be up to a jury to determine whether Dorman singled out Jordan because of his race. Similarly, it will be up to a jury to decide whether Dorman's search of Jordan amounted to "battery," which is defined legally as intentional offensive contact with another.
On Monday, Lafky said he is "gratified" that the lawsuit can proceed against Dorman. State law requires the city to defend an officer who was acting in the line of duty. If a jury awards damages to Jordan, the city must pay.
Lafky said he was not surprised the city escaped direct involvement in the lawsuit.
"It's obvious that no one puts racism in a handbook and then tells officers to practice it," Lafky said. "We think there's good evidence ... it's still difficult to prove."
Lafky was unable to contact Jordan on Monday for a reaction, but said Jordan probably won't comment publicly until the case is finished. The lawsuit is scheduled for trial Oct. 31 in federal court in Eugene.
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|Title Annotation:||Minorities; The lawsuit brought by Cortez Jordan is narrowed to focus on the conduct of one Eugene police officer|
|Publication:||The Register-Guard (Eugene, OR)|
|Date:||Jun 13, 2006|
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