Fourth Circuit Upholds Dragnet of Black Males

Today the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals handed down an opinion upholding a police dragnet of black males. Monroe v. City of Charlottesville, No. 08-1334 (4th Cir. Aug. 31, 2009).

After an unidentified black man raped several women, police began approaching black males en masse, asking for a DNA sample. One black male who felt that he was coerced into giving a DNA sample sued under Section 1983, alleging, inter alia, violations of the Equal Protection Clause. He had two theories: (1) The police only demanded by DNA because I was black; (2) The police had never done a similar dragnet of white males. After most of the plaintiff's causes of action were dismissed, he voluntarily dismissed his theory (2) equal protection claim.

The Fourth Circuit only heard his theory (1) claim, and held that he had no claim:

The City did not so classify Monroe on the basis of his race. The officers in this case did not approach Monroe because he was African-American; rather, Monroe was approached because he matched the description of the suspect given by several victims. This is not a case in which police created a criminal profile of their own volition and decided which characteristics, such as race, that the criminal possessed. Nor is this a situation where police were faced with conflicting or uncertain evidence as to the assailant’s race and made the decision to pursue only African-Americans. Rather, as earlier indicated, the police decided to approach Monroe based on the similarity between him and the several elements of the victims’ descriptions, not because of a plan to investigate African-Americans. Certainly the description included the fact that the suspect was African-American, but the officers were not the source of that portrayal. Instead, that description came from private citizens—the several victims of a sex crime reciting facts as they existed when the violent felony was being committed.
Slip op. at *13.

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