PHILADELPHIA – In an amicus brief filed today in federal court in Philadelphia, the American Civil Liberties Union of Pennsylvania and National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers argued against a request by federal prosecutors to censor the court’s own ruling to remove references to racial bias and dishonesty by a law enforcement officer.
The Department of Justice has asked the court to reissue its opinion in a case involving a 2017 traffic stop of two Hispanic men on the Pennsylvania Turnpike by Trooper Thomas Fleisher of the Pennsylvania State Police with the same ruling but omitting the court’s conclusions that the trooper was untruthful and engaged in racial profiling. In its ruling, the federal district court found that Fleisher’s investigation of the men was “very likely” based on the ethnicity of the driver and his passenger rather than the reasons given by the trooper, which included the fact that they were not wearing “business attire” and were driving an older car.
“This is a naked attempt by the Department of Justice to hide misconduct by a law enforcement officer,” said Reggie Shuford, executive director of the ACLU of Pennsylvania. “If a state trooper is engaged in misconduct, the public needs to know that. Public transparency improves policing and holds officers accountable to the oath they took to the Constitution.”
This case is not the first time that Fleisher’s behavior has been brought into question in court. In 2015, the Court of Common Pleas in Lancaster County found that Fleisher lacked reasonable suspicion for a traffic stop and frisk of an African-American man. Fleisher said that he conducted the frisk because the driver was “aggressive…in nature” while admitting that the driver did not do anything aggressive.
In 2011, Fleisher was sued by two white men who alleged that Fleisher stopped their vehicle shortly after they left North Philadelphia, ransacked it, and strip searched them because he felt “it was abnormal for two Caucasian males to be driving through a black neighborhood.”
“The Supreme Court requires prosecutors to disclose findings like this before using a law enforcement witness because no person, and no witness, is above the law,” said Mary Catherine Roper, deputy legal director of the ACLU of Pennsylvania. “The need for these types of findings to remain public is even more important when the officer has shown a pattern of racial profiling.”
The case is United States of America v. Pedro Ramon Payano and is being heard in the United States District Court for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania. The brief for the ACLU of Pennsylvania and NACDL was authored by cooperating attorney Lisa Mathewson of The Law Offices of Lisa A. Mathewson, LLC and Roper of the ACLU of Pennsylvania. A copy of the amicus brief is available here.