A Kentucky prosecutor has come under fire after saying that being Hispanic is probable cause for being pulled over.
Courtroom footage captured Oldham County Attorney John K. Carter’s words on video on Oct. 14.
Mauro Martinez, who is Guatemalan, was pulled over last July, allegedly for speeding (although Martinez insists he was not speeding). The speeding charge did not stick, though; rather, Martinez was charged for driving without a license because he could only provide a Guatemalan ID card.
At a court hearing regarding the citation, Travis Combs, an assistant court attorney, said, “I think that their main issue is that [Martinez was] stopped because [he’s] Hispanic.”
Dawn Elliott, the attorney representing Martinez, said, “Yeah, that’s our issue.”
To this, Carter said, “That’s probable cause.”
“I’m going to act like I didn’t hear that,” Elliott said.
“I am too,” said Oldham District Judge Diana Wheeler.
Since the release of the footage, Carter has insisted that his remarks were taken out of context.
“I was looking at the citation,” he said in a subsequent interview. “I thought they were talking about the cop not citing him with a speeding charge.”
“I never made any reference to the ethnicity of the defendant,” Carter added. “And you won’t find it anywhere on the tape.”
Combs said he doesn’t believe Oldham County has a problem with Hispanic profiling and wasn’t sure Carter’s comments were referring to Martinez’s race or not.
However, Elliott disagreed with Combs’s assessment and believes Carter came up with his explanation after the video went viral.
“Clearly he had an opportunity to clear that up on the record over 24 hours ago, but now there’s a buzz about it,” Elliott said. “My reaction and the judge’s reaction speaks for itself. We certainly interpreted him talking about probable cause for my client’s ethnicity.”
She also said that, in Oldham County, people do in fact get pulled over “simply because they’re Hispanic.”
“Since this story came to light, there have been a lot of attorneys who practice in both Jefferson County and Oldham [County] who say they see quite a few more Hispanic individuals who go to court,” she said.
She also described a plea bargain deal the prosecutor’s office frequently offers to people with Hispanic last names, further emphasizing her concern with racial profiling.
“Before we even got to the point of getting to court, the other assistant county attorney, Daniel Fenley, said ‘if your guy was to plead guilty here’s a guilty plea form that we have for people that have that type of last name,'” Elliott recounted.
According to Fenley, though, the plea deal has nothing to do with racial profiling.
“I looked at his last name and saw that he had an interpreter,” Fenley said, “and my question was is he here legally and can he get a license.”
Fenley claimed he was referring to a deal where the attorney’s office offers people who plead guilty without a license a 90-day conditional discharge.
But Elliott believes her client was pulled over for being Hispanic to begin with and that speeding was never an issue, speaking to the larger issue of racism in the county: “The officer on the citation stated that he was speeding yet he didn’t charge him with a moving violation.”
“It’s our contention that he was stopped because he was driving while brown,” Elliott said.