Attorney accuses Fort Myers police of racial profiling
Drivers cited for having license plate frames
FORT MYERS - A local attorney accusing the Fort Myers police department of racial profiling. She says officers are pulling over African-Americans just because they have decorative frames around their license plates. Four in your corner investigator mike mason asking the tough questions tonight to get you answers.
We've all seen those license plate frames, many dealers put them on new cars, some have sports teams on them and you can order any designer frame you want. Fort Myers police are citing some drivers who have them and one attorney is now taking action.
On July 26th, Fort Myers police officers attempted to stop Courtney Stokes on State Road 82. According to reports: "Officers observed a white Mitsubishi...with a decorative metal vanity plate covering the entire "My Florida" portion of the tag and partially covering the beginning letter 'E'. "
Officers found Stokes was driving with a suspended license which violated his probation and he was arrested. Stokes is African-American. His attorney feels this may be a case of racial profiling.
Janese Caruthers: "They're just looking for a reason to pull people over."
Attorney Janese Caruthers is not suing the department for racial profiling but feels that officers should never have stopped stokes for having this frame around his license plate.
Janese Caruthers: "It's just another reason to stop people so you can do a fishing expedition to see if they have drugs or anything else in the car."
Caruthers also represents Regina James who is also African-American. Fort Myers police cited her in September for having the state and county obscured on her license plate.
Janese Caruthers: "Hers was one of the custom frames and it was a USF frame where it has the USF logo."
According to Florida statute: "The word 'Florida', the registration decal and alphanumeric designation (on license plates) shall be clear and distinct."
But in 1997, Florida's 5th District court of appeals ruled: "Rims or frames which obscure the county name....is a common practice...we decline to declare it a traffic violation."
Janese Caruthers: "There's case law that says because it's so commonly done and people have sports teams, colleges and because it's so commonly done that should not be the basis to pull someone over."
Mike Mason: "The attorney took us out to her firm's parking lot to see how many people have those frames around their license plates. There are 14 cars out here and we found 11 of them do have those frames obscuring either the state or the county on the plate."
The Fort Myers police department would not comment about allegations of racial profiling but did say: "The officer wrote the ticket because he/she observed a violation of state statute. Anyone who wishes to dispute the merits of the citation should take it to court."
And that's what Caruthers plans to do.
Janese Caruthers: "You would think they would focus their efforts on solving more serious crimes instead of harassing people for these minor offenses."
The attorney is fighting the charges in traffic court and her first hearing is set for December 26th. We'll let you know how it turns out.