Today, the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights and Economic Justice (“LCCREJ”) filed a complaint against the Walpole Police Department on behalf of John-Paul Wahnon, a Black driver who was illegally stopped, removed from his vehicle, and searched by Walpole police officers.
Mr. Wahnon is a professional career counselor who has worked for multi-national corporations in New York and Los Angeles, as well as for the Commissioner of Major League Soccer. On August 13, 2016, after Mr. Wahnon left a shopping center in Walpole, Massachusetts, a police officer followed him for approximately fifteen minutes as he drove to his mother’s house in Westwood, Massachusetts. Moments before he entered Westwood, he was stopped by Walpole police. Mr. Wahnon did not violate any traffic laws. Once stopped, he cooperated, provided the requested documentation, and answered all questions. Nevertheless, the police officer removed Mr. Wahnon from his vehicle and frisked him. The police officer searched the vehicle without Mr. Wahnon’s consent, including closed compartments. The officer discovered nothing of concern during the illegal search.
The complaint asserts that the Walpole Police officers’ conduct constitutes an illegal and unreasonable search and seizure and that Mr. Wahnon was specifically targeted as a Black man driving through a predominantly White community. “Unfortunately, this type of racial profiling is not isolated,” said Sophia Hall, a Staff Attorney at LCCREJ representing Mr. Wahnon. “From Ferguson to Baton Rouge to New York City, we have seen that police often target individuals based solely on their race. We have also seen that this can have devastating consequences when police departments do not proactively address the problem.” She noted that U.S. Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor recently called attention to the issue of racial profiling referring to people of color as “canaries in the coal mine” who remind us that racial profiling threatens lives and corrodes public confidence in law enforcement. The U.S. Department of Justice has found that racial profiling impedes police effectiveness by alienating communities. Racial profiling also contravenes the core police objectives of controlling crime and promoting public safety.
Attorney Hall noted that LCCREJ filed the complaint directly with Walpole Police to provide the town with an opportunity to proactively address the issue of racial profiling. Mr. Wahnon’s complaint demands an apology, disciplinary action against the two offending officers, and comprehensive implicit bias training for all Walpole police officers to avoid similar incidents of racial profiling and discrimination in the future.