The Department of Justice (DOJ) has filed a civil lawsuit against Sheriff Terry Johnson, who operates in Alamance County, NC, for racially profiling minority drivers in traffic stops throughout his jurisdiction. The trial in the case of United States v Sheriff Terry Johnson will depend heavily on expert witness testimony, and both sides have made motions to exclude opposing experts from taking the stand.
Sheriff Terry Johnson Accused of Racial Profiling
In 2010, the DOJ began investigating Alamance County Sheriff Terry Johnson due to allegations of “discriminatory policing and unconstitutional searches and seizures.” Johnson and his officers allegedly stopped a disproportionate number of Latino drivers, and were more likely to arrest Latinos rather than issue citations. After a 2-year investigation, the DOJ filed a federal civil rights lawsuit against Sheriff Johnson in December of 2012. As the case has worked its way through pre-trial discovery, both sides have leaned heavily on expert witnesses to conduct independent investigations of the Alamance County Sheriff’s office in preparation for the upcoming trial.
DOJ Requests Expert Witnesses Be Excluded
Prior to the start of the trial against Johnson, the DOJ filed a motion last week to have two of the Sheriff’s expert witnesses removed:
- First, the DOJ asked for removal of Mark Dockery, Jr., who is a crime analysis expert witness working with the Alamance County Sheriff’s office. According to the DOJ motion to exclude Mr. Dockery, Johnson “neither provided an expert nor disclosed the subject matter on which Mr. Dockery will present evidence and a summary of the facts and opinions to which he will testify as required.” Without adequate notice about Dockery’s qualifications or the specific testimony he would offer, the DOJ argued that Johnson’s defense team had failed to demonstrate that his testimony satisfied the Daubert standards for expert witnesses.
- The DOJ also requested that expert witness David Banks be excluded. Dr. Banks is an expert in statistical analysis, and was hired by Johnson to analyze the Alamance County Sheriff’s records of traffic stops and arrests of Latino drivers. Dr. Banks concluded that “there is no statistical evidence that checkpoints were sited in ways that targeted the Latino population,” which counters results of the DOJ’s investigation. In its motion to exclude, the DOJ argued that Dr. Banks could not offer reliable testimony, saying his experience as a statistician is “irrelevant [because] Dr. Banks lacks knowledge and experience to design analyses to test whether bias influences law enforcement activities.” The DOJ took umbrage with Dr. Banks applying general statistical analysis techniques in crafting his expert witness testimony because doing so did not adequately address the question of whether or not the Alamance County Sheriff’s office was employing discriminatory practices. As expert witnesses must provide testimony that is relevant, the DOJ argued Dr. Banks’ opinion is out of the trial’s scope.
Sheriff Johnson’s defense team responded to the DOJ’s objections to both of the planned expert witnesses by directly refuting the reasons to exclude. Additionally, the Defense presented arguments against a key expert for the Department of Justice.
Sheriff Johnson Seeks Exclusion of Key DOJ Expert Witness
Not to be outdone by the DOJ’s scrutiny of Defense expert witnesses, Johnson’s team filed a motion to exclude the testimony of the man responsible for the studies supporting allegations of discriminatory practices. DOJ expert John Lamberth conducted a field study on three major roadways in Alamance County from 2008 to 2013, concluding, “the probability that ASCO will stop and cite a Hispanic motorist is about twice as high” in Johnson’s jurisdiction. The Defense, in its motion to exclude, argued that Lamberth selected the roads to monitor in an effort to dictate his study’s results, making his test “fatally flawed,” and not reliable enough to present at trial. Expert witness testimony must be supported by reliable science, and Johnson’s Defense team presented an argument that Lamberth influenced his results to support the DOJ’s allegations of discrimination.
The DOJ responded that Lamberth is “a leading authority on the study of biased traffic enforcement whose carefully devised study of the Alamance County Sheriff’s Office easily surpasses the threshold for reliability.” US District Judge Thomas Schroeder, who is hearing the case without a jury and will be solely responsible for the decision, will rule on the motions as the trial against Johnson progresses.