A federal judge will allow evidence from a January 2019 traffic stop on Interstate 95 to be used in a criminal case, even if a Maine State Police trooper targeted the driver because of his race.

A prosecutor dismissed a different criminal case concerning a stop in August 2019 after a cruiser microphone captured Trooper John Darcy describing the Black man he was pulling over as “looking like a thug.” Other attorneys and the American Civil Liberties Union of Maine began actively challenging other arrests made by Darcy and accusing him of serial racial profiling.

Darcy, who is white, testifying in one of those cases in July, denied that he pulls drivers over based on their race.

That hearing centered on the arrest in January 2019, when Darcy stopped another Black man on the Maine Turnpike for allegedly failing to promptly signal a lane change and cutting off a tractor-trailer. He eventually called a drug detection dog and searched the driver, who admitted he had drugs. Damon Fagan of Presque Isle, who was 43 years old at the time, was charged with possession with intent to distribute heroin.

The defense attorney challenged the legality of that traffic stop and filed a motion to suppress evidence in 2019. U.S. District Judge D. Brock Hornby denied the motion and found at the time that a reasonable police officer would have had probable cause to stop Fagan for an unsafe lane change, even if the trooper had misinterpreted the law in this case about when a traffic signal is required. The judge agreed to reconsider that decision after Darcy’s recorded comments came to light last year, and he called the July hearing.

Hornby ultimately denied the motion for the second time in an order issued Thursday. He pointed to a 1996 Supreme Court ruling that generally said officers can stop any vehicle as long as they have reasonable cause to believe that a traffic violation occurred. Hornby called racial profiling “reprehensible,” but he said the legal question he had to answer was whether Darcy lied when he said he pulled Fagan over for an unsafe lane change, not whether Darcy initially targeted Fagan because of his race.

“I therefore need not decide … whether Darcy stopped drivers in general and Fagan in particular based upon on racial criteria,” Hornby wrote in his decision. “Instead, I will assume for purposes of this decision that Darcy did use racial criteria (Darcy denies that interpretation of his comments).”

Even so, Hornby found the reason for the traffic stop itself to be credible. Darcy told the driver why he was pulling him over, Hornby wrote, and the dashcam video from the cruiser did not contradict him.

“Assuming that Darcy had singled out Fagan’s vehicle for improper reasons as it went through the York toll plaza, he waited 3 minutes before he found a basis to pull him over. … (It) is a stretch to conclude that his statements to Fagan about safety were merely an effort to cover up racial profiling,” Hornby wrote. “Therefore, irrespective of Darcy’s personal motivation, I do not find that Darcy lied in giving the unsafe lane change explanation and find his testimony credible.”

Assistant U.S. Attorney Nicholas Scott, who is prosecuting the case, said he did not have any comment on the order.

Defense attorney David Bobrow said he was frustrated with the judge’s decision. He did not say what his next steps in the case would be.

“It’s frustrating when the court acknowledges racial profiling but doesn’t equate that to veracity of the officer,” Bobrow wrote in an email. “We maintain the position that there was no evidence presented that supported the officer’s basis to stop the motor vehicle.”

The head of the Maine State Police said recently that an internal review of more than 1,000 traffic stops by Darcy did not reveal a pattern of racial profiling, but the agency released no details about the findings. A staff attorney said the Maine State Police does not have any public records of discipline against Darcy related to the traffic stop. He then denied a Freedom of Access Act request for the records included in the review, citing exceptions in the public records law for certain personnel records.

Other attorneys are also asking judges to suppress evidence from traffic stops and order the government to produce records about Darcy’s policing. It is not clear whether this order will have an impact on their efforts.

In one case, the federal defender’s office filed motions in April that called into question at least 11 traffic stops led by Darcy. Daphne Hallett Donahue, the public defender, wrote in her motion that those cases all involved people of color, and the stops appear to be based on manufactured reasons or selective enforcement.

She said she believes that pattern extends to the state police’s Proactive Criminal Enforcement team, which includes Darcy and focuses on intercepting illegal drugs coming into Maine, and she made a sweeping request for information about their work.

“These are likely just some of many examples of Trooper Darcy’s predatory, race-based, policing strategies,” Donahue wrote. “There are likely many other people of color driving northbound in the state of Maine who have been subjected to this type of unconstitutional search and seizure, but who are ultimately permitted to continue their trip because the searches yield nothing.”

Darcy testified about his recorded comments earlier this month in a separate case. In that case, the defense attorney has filed a motion to suppress evidence from one of his traffic stops. The judge has not yet issued a ruling.

“When I used the word ‘thug,’ I was referencing a person involved in criminal activity,” Darcy said on the witness stand. “The purpose of what I was trying to say was … race wouldn’t matter in anything we do.”

Related Headlines

Comments are not available on this story.