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The state of New Jersey has agreed to pay $250,000 to settle claims by three black men who said they were victims of racial profiling by the New Jersey state police. Attorney Stefan Presser of the American Civil Liberties Union of Pennsylvania said the settlement is the largest ever in a civil rights suit in which the victims were neither physically injured nor jailed. Presser — who handled the case along with attorneys Alan L. Yatvin of Philadelphia’s Popper & Yatvin, David Rudovsky of Philadelphia’s Kairys Rudovsky Epstein & Messing, and William Buckman, a Moorestown, N.J., solo practitioner — said the focus of the suit was humiliation suffered by the plaintiffs in the unconstitutional traffic stops. The three men — Thomas White, 71, Fred Hamiel, 43, and Tyrone Hamilton, 36 — were the lead plaintiffs in a proposed class action suit that ultimately failed to win class action status. U.S. District Judge Joel Pisano of the District of New Jersey ruled that the proposed class had no right to pursue injunctive relief because it could conflict with a comprehensive settlement of a racial-profiling suit brought by the U.S. Justice Department that calls for monitoring of the state police. Pisano later refused to certify the suit as a class action for damages after concluding there were too many individual issues relating to the details of each motorist’s encounter with police. Earlier this year, news reports said state officials were discussing a possible “global” settlement of all racial-profiling complaints at the state and federal level by non-white drivers. Lawyers involved in the talks said the amount under consideration at the time was about $12 million. But by early May, the talks were called off and plaintiffs’ lawyers said the state shifted to negotiating settlements of individual cases. Presser said in an interview Tuesday that the settlement of claims by the three federal plaintiffs was simply too good to turn down, even though it means forgoing any appeal of the rulings denying class action status. “We were prepared to litigate this and pursue the class issues on appeal,” Presser said. “But the truth is, this was an inordinately good settlement for these three people.” In court papers, the three men detailed their experiences. White, a retired corrections officer, said that in May 1998, he was northbound on the New Jersey Turnpike from Philadelphia to New York City when he was stopped in Burlington County by a trooper who said he had been driving erratically. After examining White’s license, registration and insurance, the suit said, the trooper conducted a search of the vehicle’s trunk. Nothing was recovered, and White was released without any citation being issued to him, the suit said. Just one month later, White said he had an identical experience just a few miles north of where the first incident occurred. As in the first incident, White said he was accused of driving erratically, forced to submit to a search of his trunk, and then released with no citations. Hamiel, a newspaper advertising account executive, claimed that in March 1999, he was driving on the New Jersey Turnpike from his home in Philadelphia to pick up his young son at his mother’s house in Bayonne, N.J. The suit said Hamiel was ordered to stop even though he was not violating any traffic laws, and that the trooper refused to respond to Hamiel’s question about why he had been stopped. When the trooper ordered Hamiel and his brother to step out of the vehicle, the suit says, Hamiel asked whether it was necessary for his brother to do so since he was in a cast from his foot to his groin, due to a job-related accident. The suit said the trooper responded with foul language, told Hamiel to shut up and repeated his order that both men exit the car. The trooper then frisked both men and ordered them to stand against the rail at the side of the road while he radioed for backup, the suit said. Hamiel and his brother were detained for 25 minutes while the car was searched without his permission, the suit said, and the trooper offered no explanation when he told them they were free to leave without any citations. In December 1998, Hamiel claimed that he was stopped again while driving on the turnpike, and that he and his cousin were detained for a short time before being released without an explanation for the stop or having any citations issued. Hamilton, a juvenile corrections officer, claimed in the suit that in December 1998, he was stopped on the turnpike while driving to a funeral in Maryland with his 80-year-old grandmother and his 44-year-old aunt. The suit said a New Jersey state trooper told Hamilton he was stopped for speeding and then quizzed him about his car and his destination. But upon learning that Hamilton was a juvenile detention officer for Union County, the suit said, the trooper released Hamilton and his family members without issuing a citation. Just a few minutes later, Hamilton said he was stopped by a different trooper who also accused him of speeding. After the second trooper had issued him a ticket, Hamilton said, he approached the trooper’s car to ask about the calculation of the fine and overheard him speaking with the first trooper. The suit said the second trooper then asked why Hamilton hadn’t identified himself as an officer, saying, “you should have given me your ID before I wrote the ticket,” or words to that effect. Presser said Tuesday that he hopes the settlement marks a “new chapter” for the state of New Jersey in addressing the problem of racial profiling. “The substantial settlement shows New Jersey’s realization of the enormity of the humiliation inflicted upon African American male motorists by its state officers … . The time has come for the state to offer similar compensation to all who have been the victims of race profiling,” Presser said.

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