Migrant Justice member wins major case against illegal collaboration between Police and Immigration

Grand Isle Sheriff pays nearly $30,000 settlement in discrimination case

State’s bias-free policing policy under review

A Vermont Sheriff’s Department recently paid out a nearly $30,000 settlement stemming from discriminatory treatment against an immigrant dairy worker, who was turned over to Border Patrol after a traffic stop in which he was a passenger.  As the state looks to update its bias-free policing policies, many warn that inadequate policy could open more departments to liability.

The settlement in question stems from a 2015 traffic stop in Grand Isle County.  On February 14th, 2015, Lorenzo Alcudia was on his way from the farm where he worked to a community meeting of other immigrant dairy workers.  He didn’t make it to the meeting.  

Grand Isle Sheriff’s Department Sergeant Blake Allen pulled over the car in which Alcudia was a passenger.  The driver, who is white, walked away with a warning for speeding.  Alcudia, a 25 year old Mexican national who has worked on Vermont dairy farms for the past five years, ended his day in the custody of the U.S. Border Patrol.

Alcudia, a member of farmworker organization Migrant Justice, filed a complaint with the Human Rights Commission against the Sheriff’s Department, alleging that stop violated his rights under Vermont law.  Last December, the Commission found “overwhelming evidence” of discriminatory treatment; a 32-page report documents Sgt. Allen, the son of Grand Isle Sheriff Ray Allen, repeatedly asking if Alcudia was “supposed to be here,” contacting Border Patrol, and holding Alcudia for more than an hour to await federal agents’ arrival.  As a result of the stop, Alcudia now faces removal proceedings.

In May, the Grand Isle Sheriff Department paid a nearly $30,000 settlement to Alcudia and the Human Rights Commission for Sgt. Allen’s discriminatory actions during the stop.  Alcudia was represented in the proceedings by Attorney Robert Appel.  

Said Attorney Appel of the settlement: “We were very pleased that the Sheriff came to the table and agreed to resolve the matter without resorting to extended litigation. The settlement reinforces that ALL residents of Vermont are protected by law and our constitutions against arbitrary and extended detention by the state’s police officers. Given that he was not breaking any criminal law, Mr. Alcudia should have been allowed to proceed to his meeting once Dep. Sheriff Allen cleared the motor vehicle stop, rather than being subjected to discriminatory questions based on his race, color, national origin and not speaking English.”

Lorenzo Alcudia, the subject of the stop, reflected on his experience: “Being profiled by the sheriff was a terrible experience and I live with the consequences every day.  I hope that police will learn from this case and stop discriminating against people like me.”

Following similar detentions of passengers by the State Police in 2011 and by the Franklin County Sheriff in 2013 and increased high profile incidents of racial profiling and police brutality across the nation, the Vermont legislature passed Act 193 in 2014. Under the law, the Vermont Criminal Justice Training Council, in consultation with stakeholders, must develop a “model fair and impartial policing policy.”  The stakeholders named in the law include the Human Rights Commission and Migrant Justice.  

Currently, police departments are required to adopt a bias-free policy based on guidelines from the Vermont State Police or the Attorney General.  By July 1st, all departments must update their non-discrimination directives to bring them in line with the Council’s model policy.  However, stakeholders claim that the draft now under consideration would fail to provide necessary guidelines against discriminatory treatment, resulting in more cases like Alcudia’s.

Abel Luna, of Migrant Justice, expressed frustration: “We met with the Council for the last six months, helping them develop a policy that will prevent what happened to Lorenzo from happening again.  At the 11th hour, police representatives have made unilateral changes, going back on the consensus draft.  After a department pays out $30,000 for a discriminatory stop, you would think that police would want to do better.”

Jay Diaz, staff attorney with the Vermont ACLU, who also worked on the consensus policy, commented: “Vermont must explicitly reject policies and practices that unjustly punish community members and  invite racial profiling against Latinos, Asian-Americans, and others presumed to be ‘foreign.’ Instead of continuing to waste valuable taxpayer dollars on settlements like these, law enforcement should adopt the consensus policy we created together because it ensures compliance with state, federal, and constitutional law.”

The proposed policy will be the subject of the Council’s June 14th meeting in Pittsford.