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Courts and Crime

Federal judge suppresses evidence in drug case involving trooper accused of racial profiling

Maine State Police
John Darcy

A federal judge has thrown out evidence in a federal drug case against a woman who was a passenger in a car stopped by Maine State Police in 2019. And a civil rights group contends that this case — which involves a former state "Trooper of the Year" — illustrates a racial profiling problem within the ranks of the department.

In June of 2019, then-Trooper John Darcy stopped a minivan just north of the York toll plaza on the Maine Turnpike after allegedly seeing the slow-moving vehicle swerve into the breakdown lane several times. After Darcy questioned the driver and passenger, both of whom were Black, a drug-sniffing dog was called to the scene. And passenger Alexis Boyd was eventually charged with possession of heroin and fentanyl with intent to distribute.

But in an unusual ruling on Monday, U.S. District Judge Nancy Torresen in Portland ordered the Office of the U.S. Attorney to suppress the evidence against the woman.

Torresen said video from Darcy's police cruiser shows the minivan barely touched the line on the highway's shoulder. She also pointed out that even if the car was going just 45 miles per hour, as Darcy claimed, that is the minimum speed on the turnpike. Torresen said the video evidence undercut Darcy's credibility, and she pointed to previous statements from the trooper in an earlier racial profiling case.

"Police officers need to follow the constitution,” said Zachary Heiden, chief counsel at the ACLU of Maine, which filed a brief in support of the defendant’s request that the judge suppress the evidence against her.

"They can't pull people over unless they have reasonable suspicion that has to be based on real facts,” Heiden said. “And it can't be based on prejudice. It can't be based on racial profiling. And that's what it looks like happened here."

Attorneys for multiple clients have filed similar complaints about drug cases that reportedly began with Darcy pulling over Black drivers, sometimes after observing them from the York toll plaza.

In one case, the U.S. Attorney's Office dismissed a criminal case against a Black man who was stopped along the same stretch of Interstate 95 just two months after Darcy had stopped the vehicle in the current case. That decision hinged on audio recordings of Darcy telling another trooper that he pulled the man over because he had dreadlocks and looked like a thug.

While Darcy said at the time that he was not racial profiling, Heiden sees a pattern beyond one officer.

"We're concerned that this is a widespread problem,” Heiden said. “We hope and expect that the state police is going to take this as encouragement to really dig into their own practices and think about the kind of training they are providing for their own officers."

A spokeswoman for the Maine Department of Public Safety said in a statement that the agency is reviewing Torresen’s ruling and the supporting documents from the investigation, but that it would be inappropriate to comment on the case before the review. Assistant U.S. Attorney Michael Conley was also not prepared to discuss next steps in the Boyd case now that the evidence must be suppressed.

"We remain in the process of reviewing the decision and have no further comment at this time,” Conley said.