HELENA — The Montana Highway Patrol reached a settlement Friday with plaintiffs in a lawsuit claiming the patrol improperly detained Hispanic drivers over unfounded concerns they were in the country illegally.
Attorney General Tim Fox, Montana Highway Patrol Col. Tom Butler and attorneys for the plaintiffs reached the agreement. The patrol acknowledges no wrongdoing, but the parties agree that traffic stop policies the patrol adopted since the lawsuit was filed address the plaintiffs’ concerns.
A group of plaintiffs led by Jose Rios-Diaz and the Montana Immigrant Justice Alliance filed the federal lawsuit against the Highway Patrol in October 2013. It said the patrol had detained Hispanic drivers and passengers to check their immigration status.
Under the settlement, the patrol will comply with a policy that says troopers many not stop someone or prolong a stop solely for the purpose of verifying a person’s immigration status, and they cannot stop or detain a person based on race, religion, national origin, sexual orientation or economic status except under certain conditions.
Additionally, for the next five years, the patrol will work with Washington State University researchers who conducted a 2013 study in which no evidence was found that the patrol had engaged in racial profiling. The patrol will also track when troopers contact the U.S. Department of Homeland Security about an immigration status and will retain an independent auditor who will review complaints and will file annual reports to the Montana Department of Justice regarding actions taken to avoid racial profiling.
The agreement must be approved by U.S. District Judge Dana Christensen.
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