Are Justice Dept. Sting Operations Targeting Minorities?

Sunday, November 23, 2014
(graphic: Steve Straehley, AllGov)

Federal judges in some of the nation’s largest cities are questioning and sometimes throwing out cases brought by federal agents that targeted minorities as part of drug sting operations.


The Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF) has increasingly set up phony “stash houses” to ensnare what it insists are “violent, hardened criminals,” The New York Times reported. The operations imprisoned more than a thousand individuals in 2013. Often, those arrested and charged are from poor urban neighborhoods dominated by Hispanics and blacks.


An investigation by USA Today found that 55% of suspects in these kinds of cases were black and more than a third were Hispanic. The total is more even than the percentages of black and Hispanic people caught up in the criminal justice system, much less the population in general.


Recently, a few federal judges began to question the ATF’s tactics and motives, accusing agents of racial profiling when identifying suspects.


Judge Otis D. Wright II in Los Angeles accused ATF of “outrageous government conduct” in one case he dismissed, saying agents were “trawling for crooks in seedy, poverty-ridden areas—all without an iota of suspicion that any particular person has committed similar conduct in the past,” according to Erik Eckholm of the Times.


Another Los Angeles federal judge, Manuel L. Real, threw out a case and wrote the government “steers too close to tyranny.” Like Wright, Real cited concerns with agents going after minorities “from a poor neighborhood.”


A federal appeals court in Chicago ordered a new trial for an individual who claimed he was entrapped by federal agents and was not allowed to use that defense at trial.


In response to defense lawyers’ charges that minorities are being disproportionally targeted in these stings, U.S. District Court Judge Ruben Castillo ordered the federal government to produce information about those it had pursued in northern Illinois, as well as its procedures for running the investigations, including how it chooses its targets.

-Noel Brinkerhoff, Steve Straehley


To Learn More:

Lured to Stings by Fake Drugs and Facing Jail Time That’s All Too Real (by Erik Eckholm, New York Times)

Investigation: ATF Drug Stings Targeted Minorities (by Brad Heath, USA Today)

The Line between FBI Stings and Entrapment Has Not Blurred, It’s Gone (by Natasha Lennard, Vice News)

Florida Jury Acquits Low-IQ Defendant in Botched ATF Sting (by Noel Brinkerhoff and Steve Straehley, AllGov)

FBI Accused of Entrapping Muslims; ATF Accused of Entrapping Minorities (by Noel Brinkerhoff, AllGov)


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