MORE blacks, Hispanics pulled over in mostly white counties

Monday, May 21st 2001, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

TULSA, Okla. (AP) _ More than one-third of people stopped in 11 counties heavily patrolled for drugs were black or Hispanic, even though the population in those areas was overwhelmingly white.

The Oklahoma Highway Patrol's Special Operations Unit, which routinely does drug interdictions, stopped Hispanics at a rate 14 times their population in Garvin County.

In Mayes County, 12 percent of those stopped by the troop were black. But the county's black population is less than 1 percent.

The Tulsa World measured those stopped by the troop against the populations in those counties, according to 2000 Census data. The newspaper studied more than 34,000 warning tickets issued by the unit in an 11-county area where it issues nearly all of its warning tickets. The tickets are from 1996 through 2000.

Many of the stops involve out-of-state residents. There is no data available to show the racial makeup of people driving on the interstates.

The data was supplied by the Highway Patrol as part of a federal lawsuit by a black Army sergeant.

Sgt. Rossano Gerald claimed he and his young son were stopped and searched for more than two hours because of their race. Gerald was given a warning ticket for failure to signal a lane change. No drugs were found.

Gerald alleged that troopers searching for drugs often stop minorities for minor infractions, issue warning tickets and then conduct searches

The Highway Patrol paid $75,000 to settle the lawsuit, avoiding a trial.

The NAACP and the American Civil Liberties Union were parties to the lawsuit.

The settlement had been sealed, but the Highway Patrol made it public last week after repeated requests from the Tulsa World.

Public Safety Commissioner Bob Ricks said the patrol does not engage in racial profiling. And in the lawsuit, U.S. District Judge David L. Russell threw out claims of racial profiling, saying there was not enough evidence to show it existed.

The special operations unit is responsible for drug interdiction mainly along interstates 35, 40 and 44, as well as U.S. 75.

``The people that are put into that unit are the people we call high-activity troopers ... They make three or four times the stops that other people do and they have been trained in recognizing the conduct'' of those who transport drugs, Ricks said.

Figures show blacks make up 8 percent of the state's population, but 12 percent of those who receive warning tickets.

Hispanics make up about 5 percent of the state's population, but they made up 23 percent of those who received warning tickets from the drug interdiction unit.

Rick said many of those stopped are from other states.