A Kentucky prosecutor was reportedly heard condoning racial profiling with a remark that suggested that being Hispanic was “probable cause” for being pulled over by police.
According to reports, Oldham County Attorney John Carter denied uttering such a statement during a court hearing on Oct. 14 regarding a speeding charge, but a video shows otherwise — with a judge and defense attorney acknowledging the remark.
The case involves 38-year-old Guatemalan Mauro Martinez, who was pulled over by police for speeding on July 25 and cited for driving without a license.
In the video obtained by the Courier-Journal, Assistant County Attorney Travis Combs is seen standing at the bench, saying the defense’s “issue is he was stopped because he was Hispanic.”
Carter, who was also standing at the bench, can be heard responding: “That’s probable cause.”
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Martinez’s defense attorney Dawn Elliot is then heard saying: “I’m going to act like I didn’t hear that,” while Oldham District Judge Diana Wheeler says, “I am too.”
Carter later told the Courier-Journal that it was a misunderstanding and that he was referring to a moving violation, not the fact that Martinez is Hispanic. He said there has been an increase in individuals driving with foreign identification, but that his comments were in response to an earlier part of the exchange.
"I was looking at the citation," he said. "I thought they were talking about the cop not citing him with a speeding charge."
He added: “I never made any reference to the ethnicity of the defendant. And you won't find it anywhere on the tape."
However, Elliot does not believe Carter’s explanation, adding that he could have clarified his comments when it was brought up soon after. She said that he is covering his tracks for his alleged comment.
"Clearly he had an opportunity to clear that up on the record over 24 hours ago, but now there's buzz about it," she told the Courier-Journal. "My reaction and the judge's reaction speaks for itself. We certainly interpreted him talking about probable cause for my client's ethnicity."
She said the county is becoming known for police pulling people over “simply because they’re Hispanic” and that the Oldham County prosecutor’s office even has a special plea bargain ready for people with Hispanic last names who are stopped and don’t have a valid driver’s license.
"Before we even got to the point of getting to court, the other assistant attorney, Daniel Fenley, said 'if your guy was to plead guilty here's a guilty plea form that we have for people that have that type of last name,' " Elliot told the newspaper.
Fenley denied to reporters that he made the reference for the agreement based on Martinez being Hispanic, but did say he presented Elliot with an option for a plea bargain.
"Oftentimes if you have an interpreter and you've got someone here who is a non-English speaking person, there's a question of can they get a license," Fenley told the Courier-Journal. "I looked at his last name and saw that he had an interpreter and my question was, Is he here legally? And can he get a license?”