A federal anti-discrimination lawsuit filed by the US Justice Department against a North Carolina sheriff has been held up due to a dispute over expert witness testimony. Alamance County Sheriff, Terry Johnson, has been sued by the DOJ following accusations that he and his department engaged in discrimination against Latinos, and expert witnesses have been retained by both sides to offer statistical analysis of traffic stops and citations among the Latino population. After reviewing two drastically different expert witness reports, Judge Thomas Schroeder delayed the proceedings to better analyze the information presented.
DOJ Expert Witness Finds Evidence of Discrimination
The Justice Department submitted the research of John Lamberth, an expert police consultant, who conducted field analysis of police traffic stops in Alamance County to determine if the sheriff’s office was issuing citations to a disproportionately high number of Hispanics. Lamberth, who operates his own consulting company which provides services to police departments, local governments, and civil rights groups, focused his study on traffic stops on three major roadways between 2008 and 2013.
Lamberth’s expert testimony informed the court that 37% of all individuals stopped by the Alamance County Sheriff’s Office were Latino – a troubling statistic considering the fact that Latinos only make up 8.7% of the driving population in the county. Attorneys for the Department of Justice point to Lamberth’s study as “strong evidence of intent” by Sheriff Johnson and his office of carrying out institutionalized discrimination against the county’s Latino population. Attorneys retained by Sheriff Johnson countered Lamberth’s study with a statistics expert witness who argued the methodology and results were flawed and misleading.
Expert Witness Criticizes DOJ Finding of Discrimination
Countering Mr. Lamberth’s research, attorneys for Sheriff Johnson called David Banks, a professor of statistics at Duke University. Banks, sitting as a statistics expert witness, evaluated data from the Alamance County Sheriff’s Office, the U.S. Census Bureau, and the North Carolina state government to reach his conclusion that Lamberth’s study did not accurately reflect the frequency of which Latinos were pulled over.
Professor Banks argued that Lamberth’s study was flawed because it focused only on citations issued and not the total number of stops, and also included citations from outside the Alamance jurisdiction. Banks pointed out that the flaws in Lamberth’s analysis suggested that there is no statistical evidence that Sherriff Johnson or his staff engaged in discriminatory behavior. After analyzing the conflicting expert witness reports, Judge Schroeder delayed the start of the trial in order to give him time to analyze the evidence and rule on a handful of motions filed by each side.
Conflicting expert witnesses are nothing unusual, but this case is interesting in that both sides make use of statistical experts to analyze potentially discriminatory behavior, demonstrating yet another type of expert testimony attorneys seek out. Statistical analysis can be useful to judges and juries who are asked to identify trends in behavior, and expert researchers are called upon to conduct investigations and parse through data to make statistics useful during trial. As the DOJ accusation of discrimination against Sherriff Johnson plays out, the use of statistical expert testimony will have a significant impact on the outcome.