Last year, four black parole officers driving on their way to arrest someone were blocked in by patrol cars at a busy intersection in the village of Airmont in Ramapo, New York (about 35 miles north of New York City). According to video obtained recently by a Rockland County newspaper, the Journal News, the police pointed their guns at the parole officers, who had aroused suspicions because they were black people wearing bulletproof vests.
Black law enforcement leaders criticized Ramapo police for the incident, saying it was a case of racial profiling.
"If these guys aren't safe, imagine what a young black man feels about interacting with the police," said Damon Jones, the New York representative of Blacks in Law Enforcement of America. "They have no chance."
The state parole officers filed a federal lawsuit against the town, its police department and others, alleging racial profiling and civil rights violations. Town officials maintain police did nothing wrong.
On a morning last April, at least five cops in patrol cars boxed the parole officers' car at a busy intersection in Airmont, New York. In the dash cam videos obtained by the Journal News under the Freedom of Information Law, one cop can be seen drawing a gun immediately and aiming at the vehicle, and another reached to into the driver's side of vehicle, later determined to be state-owned. Officer Mario Alexandre can be seen emerge from the car with his hands raised. Later, a third cop carrying a rifle is shown walking towards the parole officers who had been ordered out of the car.
Police said they were responding to a report of people wearing bulletproof vests in a car. They also noted that the parole officers did not alert the department that they were in town for an arrest and their car was unmarked.
Alexandre and the other parole officers, Sheila Penister, Annette Thomas-Prince and Samuel Washington were held at least six minutes after being identified over the police radio as state employees. "Would they receive the same treatment if these parole officers were white?" Jones questioned after he viewed the video.
The lawsuit claims that the parole officers were wearing department-issued bulletproof vests with gold badges and identifications clearly displayed on chains around their necks. On the dashboard was an official sign that said "State of New York — Executive Department — Division of Parole," the lawsuit claims, and the police ran the plate and had confirmed that parole officers were in the area for an arrest.
The obtained videos do not contain audio from officers' microphones, and the lawsuit claims that the failure to provide "complete and accurate copies of audio/video recordings" on the part of the police department is "part of their cover up to avoid liability."
The town refuses to release the police reports, saying there is an ongoing investigation. The Ramapo police also decline to answer any questions.
"The actions of the town of Ramapo police were reasonable under the circumstances," said Ramapo Assistant Town Attorney Dennis Lynch, who wouldn't specify the nature of the investigation.
Patrick Withers, deputy town supervisor and a former NYPD officer, who viewed at least one dash cam video, maintained that police acted appropriately. "I have no doubt when the court views all the documents and the evidence that our officers will be vindicated," he said.
Retired parole officer Grant Valentine of Chestnut Ridge, an NAACP member, said, "I think it was an absolute case of racial profiling." According to him, there is no policy requiring parole officers notify police they are in town.
"I think what they saw was four black people they perceived to have guns in a car and they reacted based on those assumptions," he said.
Claiming that the parole officers were traumatized, humiliated and feared for their lives, the lawsuit seeks compensation of an unspecified amount and asks for the court to mandate the officers of the police department to go through proper training.
Watch video below, courtesy of the Journal News.