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Hearing the recent testimony before the New Jersey Senate Judiciary Committee and nothing else, one might conclude that Peter Verniero was singularly responsible for racial profiling and its cover-up. Witness after witness swore that Verniero was aware of racial profiling a few months after he became attorney general in July 1996 and orchestrated efforts to keep data from a federal inquiry and the public. The committee also aired a statement by Chief Justice Deborah Poritz, Verniero’s predecessor as attorney general, that she briefed him on the profiling problem. For the record, the committee’s ranking members, Chairman William Gormley, R-Atlantic, and John Lynch, D-Middlesex, said last Thursday that they wanted to explore racial profiling in depth, even whether the “culture” of state law enforcement agencies contributed to the practice. But for 20 hours last Monday and Tuesday, the committee and its counsel, Michael Chertoff, seemed mostly interested in Verniero, what he knew, and when, about a state police practice that began in the late 1980s, and what steps he may have taken to stonewall a U.S. Justice Department probe. Answers to those questions came from Verniero’s former underlings in state law enforcement. The first witness, State Police Sgt. Thomas Gilbert, said he began compiling statistics on turnpike stops and vehicle searches in 1996, shortly after Gloucester County Superior Court Judge Robert Francis’ ruling in State v. Soto, A-5335-95. Francis threw out criminal evidence seized from drivers stopped on the southern end of the New Jersey Turnpike, finding the car searches illegal because the stops were based on race. Gilbert said he attended two meetings with Verniero and other high-ranking state police officers and deputy attorneys general in 1996 and 1997 at which racial profiling was discussed. Verniero, he said, appeared to be well-versed in the subject. That testimony conflicts with what Verniero told the Senate Judiciary Committee during his confirmation hearing as a supreme court justice in May 1999. He said then that allegations of racial profiling by state police troopers in making traffic stops on the New Jersey Turnpike did not “begin to crystallize” in his mind as a serious problem until after two troopers shot at four minority men on the turnpike in April 1998. Gilbert testified that at the first meeting, on Christmas Eve in 1996, Verniero, fresh from a meeting with Deputy Assistant U.S. Attorney Loretta King, head of the Civil Rights Division, said that he had convinced her that a full investigation into state police practices was not necessary and that an informal inquiry would suffice. At the time, Gilbert said, statistics showed that troopers were continuing to stop minorities at a high rate along the central and southern portion of the turnpike and along Interstate 78 in Hunterdon County. Of particular interest to Chertoff was an early draft of a January 1997 letter from Verniero to King. “The State Police report to me that the number of stops involving black motorists on the southern portion of the Turnpike patrolled by troopers assigned to the Moorestown Station remains near the level reported in the Soto case,” he wrote. “This figure is also higher than that reported at other State Police stations in the state, including those along the Turnpike.” Chertoff implied that the language, which Verniero struck from the final version, showed that Verniero had received the same information that Gilbert was passing along to two state prosecutors handling the day-to-day investigation into profiling: Assistant Attorney General John Fahy and Deputy Attorney General George Rover. “That is correct,” said Gilbert. “Without a doubt.” Gilbert testified that by the time of the second meeting, on May 20, 1997, he had begun to suspect that the statistics were bad enough that the state could be forced into entering into a consent decree placing the state police under a federal monitor. Gilbert quoted Verniero as saying: “They’d have to tie me to a train and drag me down the track before I’d sign a decree.” Sen. Raymond Zane, R-Gloucester, asked, “Do you think it had crystallized for him by then?” Replied Gilbert: “I’m not the one to answer that, sir.” Gilbert also disputed language in the April 1999 draft version of an interim report on racial profiling that accused the state police of only recently turning over data critical to the investigation into racial profiling. “Is that statement true?” asked Chertoff. “No, sir. That would be incorrect,” replied Gilbert. “Did you regularly convey a broad range of statistics” to the Attorney General’s Office? Chertoff asked. “That would be correct, sir,” said Gilbert. “Did you conceal any information?” “No, sir. I had an obligation not to do that.” Gilbert added that he regularly had conversations with Fahy and — after Fahy was reassigned — with Rover about the progress he was making and that any new information was routinely passed along to Executive Assistant Attorney General Alexander Waugh Jr. and, ultimately, Verniero. During the May 1997 meeting, Gilbert said, Verniero appeared to be much concerned about the fact that New Jersey’s traffic stop statistics nearly mirrored Maryland’s. The problem, said Gilbert, was that police across the country were getting conflicting information from Washington. On one hand, the Division of Civil Rights was saying that racial profiling was wrong and, in the case of Maryland, entered into the consent decree. On the other hand, the federal Drug Enforcement Administration was providing information indicating that minorities were heavily involved in drug trafficking. Verniero, he said, told those at the meeting that he would meet with Attorney General Janet Reno to discuss the matter, but the meeting never took place. Gilbert said he left the meeting with a single belief. “I left with the understanding there was not going to be any deal” with the federal government. “Was that a memorable meeting?” Chertoff asked. “Yes, sir,” Gilbert replied. “Especially now, I bet,” said Chertoff. Chertoff asked Gilbert again whether he was certain that pertinent information was passed along to his superiors and to high-ranking officials at the Attorney General’s Office. “I had a personal and professional obligation to the people I work with that I did a good job in conveying that information,” said Gilbert. Testimony last Tuesday by Fahy and Rover was probably no more comforting for Verniero. Fahy, like Gilbert, recalled discussing the issue of racial profiling with Verniero. Fahy said Verniero was adamant about not wanting the federal government to launch an investigation. “He was afraid that it would reflect adversely on the state and the administration.” Fahy attended the meeting that Verniero had with King. “It was a very cordial, pleasant meeting,” said Fahy, adding that it primarily involved Verniero speaking with King. “He said he wanted to cooperate with the government. He said he would prefer it not to be called an investigation because there was such a negative connotation. He viewed it as an important issue.” The questioning of Fahy by Chertoff got testy on several occasions when, after being asked to answer yes or no about his recollections of his meetings with Verniero and how the state was investigating profiling allegations, Fahy gave wordy answers in what he said was an effort to provide context. Gormley intervened. “You’re going to have to master ‘yes’ and ‘no,’ ” he said. “ You need to be more focused in your answers. We don’t need a history of the western world for every question.” Fahy said that for years he has been pushing for a comprehensive statistical study of turnpike stops, searches and arrests, but it has never been undertaken. In his testimony, Rover said he delayed sending data to the federal government on the orders of two superiors, Waugh and First Assistant Attorney General David Hespe. The Department of Justice at one point asked for documents relating to turnpike stops and arrests, and Rover quoted Waugh as telling him, “Don’t turn it over. Get back to [the Department of Justice] and say that we are looking and let me know if they ask again.” Rover said that Hespe told him much the same thing when the Department of Justice again requested the documents. “Don’t turn it over,” Rover quoted Hespe as saying. “Get back to [the department] and say we’re working on something. But let me know if they ask again.” Waugh and Hespe deny any move to have Rover stall the Department of Justice investigation. They are scheduled to testify before the committee. The news for Verniero did not get any better on Wednesday, even though there were no hearings. The Judiciary Committee on that day posted Chertoff’s notes of an interview of Poritz, who told committee investigators that she discussed profiling with Verniero shortly before she was to become chief justice and he was to become attorney general. “Recalls discussion with P. Verniero about Soto and/or racial profiling when she was the AG,” Chertoff wrote. “Spoke on phone with P. Verniero several nights for several hours from home “Briefed P. Verniero on many issues” “Doesn’t recall making a specific list of ‘hot issues’ “ “ Soto/racial profiling was an issue she flagged for P. Verniero” The hearings originally had been scheduled to conclude on Wednesday with Verniero, but Gormley on Thursday set two more days of hearings for this week. Attorney General John Farmer Jr., who, three months after Verniero was appointed to the Court, entered into a consent decree with the Department of Justice that admitted racial profiling regularly occurred and that called for a federal monitor, will testify today. The list of areas the committee said it wants to explore include: � Organizational or cultural issues in the Department of Law and Public Safety and the state police that “may have developed, ignored, concealed or fostered racial profiling.” � The accuracy of information given to the committee during a 1999 hearing into racial profiling. � Whether the Attorney General’s Office acted properly in appealing Soto or in dropping the appeal. � Whether the Attorney General’s Office acted properly in dealing with the Department of Justice investigation and whether it concealed information.

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