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September 21, 2011

Farm Workers File Racial Profiling Complaint With VT Human Rights Commission (Updated With Police Video)


The two undocumented farm workers turned over to the federal immigration authorities by the Vermont State Police last week have filed a racial profiling complaint with the Vermont Human Rights Commission, asserting that the state trooper's suspicion was based solely on the color of their skin.

Danilo Lopez (pictured in hat) and Antonio Meza-Sandoval, both from Mexico, were detained following a traffic stop on I-89 in Middlesex on September 13, when a car in which they were passengers was pulled over for going 88 mph. On Monday, they filed a formal complaint at the Human Rights Commission offices.

"We are hopeful that this process will confirm that what happened was discriminatory so that it won't happen again to anyone in Vermont," Lopez said in a statement. "We also hope that the State will take measures to improve its Bias-Free-Policing policy and clearly direct police to not discriminate based on suspected immigration status."

The complaint follows public release of the police video (above) from the cruiser that stopped the car the farm workers were riding in. After viewing the 35-minute video, Lopez said he "re-lived the officer's pressure. He focused immediately on us upon approaching the vehicle. He threatened me with one last chance to speak up 'or else,' even though I wanted to remain silent."

Also, state Rep. Kesha Ram (D-Burlington) is wading into the controversy, saying in a statement released by the Vermont Migrant Farmworker Solidarity Project that, "Upon watching clips of the detention of Danilo and Antonio, I am deeply concerned as both a state legislator and a person of color. We cannot reasonably enforce broken federal immigration policies in our state that are disconnected from the reality of our agricultural needs and practices. This incident strengthens my resolve to end racial profiling in Vermont, and I look forward to working with Governor Shumlin to that end."

The Solidarity Project believes that since the farm workers exhibited no suspicious behavior and there  were no suspicious items in the car, the officer based his questioning and handling of the situation solely on the farm workers' appearance.

250-natalia-lm "I am convinced that if the passengers had been blue-eyed and blond, the State trooper would have engaged them differently," said Natalia Fajardo (pictured), an organizer with the Solidarity Project. "This confirms to me that today, in Vermont, being brown constitutes suspicious conduct in the eyes of the police."

Gov. Peter Shumlin has ordered an investigation of the traffic stop to determine whether it violated the state police's "bias free policing" policy, a probe being conducted by the state police. On Monday, Lopez and Meza-Sandoval were interviewed as part of that investigation by state police Capt. Timothy Clouatre. Afterwards, the Solidarity Project called for an independent review of the stop with oversight by "leaders from Vermont's diverse communities of color who are most affected by racial profiling."

Lopez (pictured below in hat) has been an outspoken leader of the Vermont Farmworker Solidarity Project. Weeks before his arrest, he hand-delivered a petition signed by 70 migrant farmworkers to Gov. Peter Shumlin, asking him to take a stand against a controversial federal immigrantion enforcement program known as Secure Communities.

The police video of the stop shows Trooper Jared Hatch approaching the car and first asking the driver, a U.S. citizen from Randolph Center, "Where you headed?"

"Charolotte," the driver replies.

Lopez "What's up there for you?" the trooper asks.

"Work," the driver replies.

Later, the trooper can be heard asking, "You folks related?" and "What country are you from?", to which the farm workers answered "Mexico." When the trooper asked, "Be straight with me. You're legal to be in the United States right now?", the farmworkers answered no.

Later in the video, when the driver apparently challenges the trooper's right to question his passengers, Hatch responds, "I can talk to anyone in the vehicle I want to. Part of my job is to determine [whether they are here illegally.] If I let them go down the road and they weren't good kids — something bad happened, then what?"

Photo of Natalia Fajardo by Matthew Thorsen.

"Also, state Rep. Kesha Ram (D-Burlington) is wading into the controversy...."

Sure, with newly discovered wading boots, no doubt. She could use a distraction from her decision to reward UVM's outgoing president with a golden parachute.


"We cannot reasonably enforce broken federal immigration policies in our state"

We can't? Of course we can, the State Trooper just did and did so quite well if you ask me.

"This incident strengthens my resolve to end racial profiling in Vermont"

Then go somewhere else where there is a problem with it. EVERYTIME I have been stopped, granted that was only 2-3 times, the cop has asked and spoken with every single person in the car. White or otherwise. It's SOP. To suggest this is a racial issue, is just plain disingenious and lazy. It's also why racism continues to exist. How does it feel knowing that you are perpetuating racism

JCarter, I thought it worth mentioning that the three-to-four times I've been stopped in Vermont (no tickets received to date, knock-on-wood), the police officer has looked at the passenger in the car but never talked to him/her directly. The only time a passenger in my car has ever been addressed has been when crossing a border. Maybe my experience is rare; of course, maybe yours is.

We live in the second whitest state in the nation.The fact of the stop is two criminals here in this U.S illegally were taken off the streets.This should be a non issue. Take them into custody,verify nationallity, and deport them.This whole incident was manufactured by these people in my opinion.The Vermont workers center and any other orginazation of there ilke,should spend more time working with U.S. citizens.And to the two criminals filing this complaint,when you are here legally you can file all the lawsuits you want as an American Citizen untill then go back to where you came from.And take your handlers with you.


I was only ever pulled over as a young kid, many years ago. I suspect it's common place for cops to speak with everyone in the car when there are a bunch of teens, more so then when its a few adults.

Is that profiling? Discrimination?

Regardless, it certainly isn't frowned upon.

It is insane for these illegals to think they have the right to COMPLAINT!!! I live in Vermont and Im as brown as it gets. Have I been stopped? yes and never asked about my inmigration status. When the law asks you a question you just answer PERIOD!!
Further more this was a LEGAL STOP the driver was speeding. it wasn't like a cop driving was seeing some brown people and decided to stop that vehicle.

"Do they work for you?" "What country are you from?" These are not the typical questions police ask during routine traffic stops. The video makes it very clear that the trooper reacted to the way the passengers in the vehicle looked and treated them accordingly. What if they HAD been here legally and didn't have proof of it with them? They probably would have been questioned and detained for some time. All because of the way they looked. State and local police should stick to enforcing local and state laws. Leave federal immigration law to the feds. Otherwise you will create a police state in Vermont in which people of color will be routinely questioned and harassed by police in their cars, at the store and on the street on the chance they may be here illegally.

If you want a guest worker policy then work towards changing federal law to allow guest workers and allows them to travel and live here without fear of deportation. If you want state law enforcement to ignore federal law, work towards making that the law in this state.

But don't get upset when the police enforce a law on the books. Get it off the books if it is heinous.

Sadly, is it entirely implausible that this was a setup? A deliberate effort to get caught so that there would be an incident for the activists to latch onto and make a high-profile stink about? 88 mph in a 65 zone?!! 23 MPH over the limit? With two undocumented aliens in the back seat?!! Who would possibly risk that? Do you know how fast 88 mph is? I could barely make my car go that fast if I wanted to. And the driver has frankly admitted that he knew he was going way too fast??? This whole thing smells.

If you're a passenger in a car, an officer cannot compel you to answer questions or engage in conversation. "Anything you say can be used against you" is absolutley true. Politely respond: "Officer I'm not interested in speaking with you or being questioned. Please respect my privacy." Say it five times if you have too, if it continues ask: " Am I free to leave? Yes or no?"
If an officer says you are free to leave, the conversation is over and you can leave or just sit silently in the car. If the officer says you cannot leave the only thing you should say (speak up for the microphone) is: " I want to speak with an attorney."

Officers know all of this but they are also trained to use their presence and manner of speaking to get you to open your mouth and indict yourself. The Trooper who says : "I can ask anything I want." Is correct, he CAN ask anything he wants. The issue is that you do not have to answer.

See also : Miranda Warnings.

Abolish Racism,

Just curious, if the driver didn't have identification with him do you think he would have been detained for a while?

If you happened to be walking out of a bank that was robbed just then, do you think the cops might ask you for ID? And detain you if you couldn't produce it?

FYI, had they been here legally they would have had proof, else they would have been violating the terms which they agreed to by coming here and accepting a visa.

This is not difficult people. The troopers here did zero wrong, except comply with Federal and State law, which clearly many of you believe to be wrong.

Sorry to burst your bubble, but the law is the law is the law. Follow it, change it, or pay the consequences.

Also, ,excellent post Tim. Spot on.

For what it's worth, here's what the Vermont State Police's Investigative Traffic Stop Policy says about this:

3.2 Observation
(1) The member shall remain vigilant and alert throughout the traffic stop and note any indication or evidence of possible criminal conduct within the stopped vehicle (i.e. popped ignition switch, possible stolen property,
evidence of contraband within the vehicle, etc.).

(2) While conversing with the occupant(s), the member should note any discrepancies or evasive answers to normal and routine type questions. The
member should observe the mannerisms of the vehicle‟s occupant(s) and be alert to excessive and/or abnormal nervousness, speech, sweating, eye
contact, etc.

(3) The member should visually inspect each stopped vehicle to identify any
alterations, modifications or other physical characteristics that indicate that
the vehicle may possibly be used for illegal purposes.

I cannot believe that two people here ILLEGALLY not citizens of this State can file suit with the Human Rights Commission a week after the stop. I am ashamed to be in this State. You cannot arbitrarily enforce certain laws and not others. If those people who live off social services had to work to repay their debt, we wouldn't be having this conversation.

Thanks Andy,

Clearly the trooper was following policy.

Evidence of contraband....pretty sure the two illegals fit that.

Conversing with the occupantS....check

Vehicle used for illegal transporting illegals...

Sounds like this trooper ought to be given a pat on the back, not a bunch of flak.

Kudos, Trooper Hatch on doing your job and doing it well. Thank you.

The Human Rights Commission clearly states in their statute that they want "full and human rights for all inhabitants of this state." Legal definition of inhabitant: One who has his/her domicile in a place is an inhabitant of that place; one who has an actual fixed residence in a place. A mere intention to remove to a place will not make a person an inhabitant of such place." Furthermore, the HRC states they "further their mission by enforcing laws." These 2 broke the law! The advocates for these 2 illegals state that the feds should do their own work and not the state/municipality. HRC enforces FEDERAL housing and employment laws. You can't have it both ways people. Either enforce the laws as they are written or appeal the law -- do it the LEGAL way.

Hey Carter: Believe it or not, there are hundreds if not thousands of people of color in this state who are United States of America citizens. They are not required to carry proof of citizenship with them at all times, and neither are you (assuming you are a U.S. Citizen). The only difference, as this case demonstrates, is that when the car you are riding in gets stopped I bet you the officer will not ask you what country you are from or if you work for the guy who is driving the car. Chances are the people of color in the car will get asked those questions, and then they will be asked to produce proof of citizenship. I suggest they start carrying their U.S, Passport wherever they go so they don't have to waste a day proving they are here legally. Welcome to Vermont!

One more thing: The problem with the State Police bias-free policy is that it does not instruct the officers not to question passengers solely on the basis of appearance. The officer can be very polite, but if the only reason he or she is asking what country they are from or if they work for the driver is based on the fact that they look "Mexican" then you can't have a bias-free policy. The average white Vermonter car passenger is never going to be asked what country they are from during a routine traffic stop just for sitting there quietly in the car.

This was a setup. Unfortunately for the "activists," the officer did not turn out to be the obnoxious pig they wanted. Darn it! I'm sure they were convinced that they were going to get Bull Connor to stop them.

Give me your tired, your poor,
Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,
The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.
Send these, the homeless, tempest-tost to me,
I lift my lamp beside the golden door!

-Emma Lazarus

I like that poem.

It is a shame that people forget what it is to be an immigrant. Many many people came to this country, came ashore to see the statute of liberty, fill out the required paperwork, take the oath and become citizens.

Now some think it perfectly acceptable to climb a fence, run through the woods or crawl through caves to come in, swearing an oath to no one and disregarding the law of the land from the minute they set foot in this country.

It truly is a shame.

Right on. My ancestors came here legally. Through Ellis Island. I've been to Ellis Island and seen the paperwork.

This is how we do it now: we put them in the backseat of a car and speed by a police offcer at 23 mph over the speed limit and HOPE we get pulled over and HOPE we get arrested and then we scream, "Unfair!!!" and file suit.


From Free Press review of video/audio:

Officer: "Do you know why you are being stopped?"

Driver (with two illegal aliens in back): "Yes, I was going really fast."

Then driver, when asked where he lived, responds to officer by expressing his displeasure with U.S. immigration laws.



Anyone who doesn't think traffic stop was manufactured, raise your hand.

BTW, the driver, who essentially confessed to breaking the law, was given a warning, not the $227/2-point ticket he could have gotten. That's chickenshit. Anyone here thinks that if you were clocked at 88 mph -- without illegal aliens in the backseat -- and you confessed to "going really fast," you wouldn't get a ticket, raise your hand.

Illegal is illegal, why does everyone have a different definition? Police pull cars over usually because of something they have done wrong, such as speeding at 88 mph. Police usually are checking registration, licenses, etc and at the same time checking the contents of the vehicle for open containers, drugs etc, why is everyone trying to tie the police officer's hands. They did an excellent job, my hat is off to them for being so patient with the illegal farm workers and protecting the saftey of Vermont citizens. Dsailo, one of the illegas has had a meeting with the governor two weeks prior and he has another meeting, in the future. I assumed you should be a citizen, to even get close to a state official. Now, I am going to go out and buy a couple of manequins put a sombrero on their heads, and this way I can speed around VT

why doesnt the governor convene a 7 member board and come up with a legal, viable way to solve this issue, and place it before Vt voters, possible could be model for the rest of the states to follow. I would be the first to volunteer to be on this board. Not an all republican or democrat board, just equal representation of both sides.

"why doesnt the governor convene a 7 member board and come up with a legal, viable way to solve this issue, and place it before Vt voters"

Why? Because there's already federal law on the subject, that's why.

Schmucks. I find it tremendously amusing that the only people who crab about profiling are the ones doing something wrong. You wanna stop all this BS? Officers should have the right and duty to question any and all occupants of a vehicle, including demanding proper identification, whenever one is stopped, regardless of race, color, creed, sexual orientation or accent. This would quickly rid the world of any real or perceived "racial profiling", because we would all be "profiled". If you aren't doing anything wrong, you have nothing to worry about. I would not be offended in the least to have myself or my passengers required to produce a driver's license or other identification. So much the better that we might be able to weed out all illegal activity.

@ One-Vermonter:

Nice appeal to emotion, but off-base. You're mixing apples and oranges. The tired, the poor, and the huddled masses about whom that ode was written came legally to this country. Get it?

What's your ultimate goal, anyway? A completely porous and meaningless border whereby anyone who wants to from anywhere in the world can enter the US without anyone's permission? Maybe someday. But guess what? Not today. Right now, THAT'S NOT THE LAW.

Get a grip on the concept of legality v. illegality, Mr. Bleedingheart. Change the immigration laws if you don't like them.

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