Bennington Police Department, town settle for $30,000 in racial profiling case

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In 2013, Shamel Alexander was a passenger in a taxi that was stopped by the Bennington police. Seven years later, Alexander, who is represented by the ACLU, has settled out of court with the Town of Bennington and the Bennington Police Department for $30,000. 

The ACLU said Alexander was riding in a taxi that was stopped under the pretext  of an equipment violation, although he was later searched and arrested for drug trafficking. The case was dismissed after a Vermont Supreme Court ruling determined that Alexander’s Fourth Amendment right to be free of unreasonable search and seizure was violated. 

After the case was dismissed, Alexander, who is Black, brought a suit against the town and police department, alleging that he was racially profiled, discriminated against and had his rights violated. 

The Bennington police have been under fire for a recent report from the International Association of Police Chiefs that asserted Bennington police were not exhibiting the preferred ‘guardian mentality’ when policing. The report was conducted after complaints that Bennington police failed to respond adequately when former state Rep. Kiah Morris complained she was the target of racially motivated harassment.

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“Currently, the daily interaction with residents tends to lean more toward a warrior mentality when, in most instances and interactions, a more nuanced guardian mentality and approach would be equally effective in meeting organizational goals,” the report reads.

According to the ACLU, the courts cited another study about the Bennington police —  a 2017 UVM study which addresses traffic stops and race in departments across the state — as part of their decision. 

The study says that Black drivers in Bennington are five times more likely to be searched at a traffic stop than white drivers. It also reports that disparities in the race of traffic stops were evident in the traffic stop records of almost every member of the department: 22 out of 24 Bennington police stop Black drivers at a disproportionately higher rate.

“The allegations remain disputed and the settlement is not deemed to be an admission of any liability,” Michael Leddy, the attorney for the town, said in a statement agreed upon by all parties. “The case has been pending for nearly four years, and it is the desire of both parties to put the matter behind them and move forward.”

The ACLU of Vermont sees this case as an important step in the fight against systemic racism in the Bennington Police Department, and throughout Vermont. 

“This case serves as a warning to cities and towns that racial profiling is discrimination, and that it will come with costs,” Jay Diaz, a staff attorney of the ACLU of Vermont, said. “A victory for racial justice would mean more than compensation for Mr. Alexander, but this is an important first step.” 

Contact Riley Board at rboard@freepressmedia.com. 

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