Latino residents in Tempe, Arizona, want the police department to fire an officer who they claim pulled over Hispanic drivers based on the color of their skin.
Abelino Lopez, a resident of the Chaparral Village area of the city, told KPNX-TV that residents believe Officer David Lewis has been targeting their community.
“We are simply tired of this officer," Lopez told the station in Spanish. “We want him out of the police department because wherever he goes he’s going to act the same.”
Lewis has had several complaints filed against him the last few years, and the Tempe Police Department conducted an internal investigation that showed that 45 percent of the people Lewis stopped in 2014 were Hispanic. The rest of the officers in the department pulled over Latinos at a 23 percent rate.
Even more imbalanced, community members say, was the number of people Lewis arrested for failure to produce proper identification. Lewis made 713 traffic stops from 2011 to 2014, and 74 of them resulted in an arrest for carrying an improper ID – a rate of 10.4 percent.
The rest of the department stopped around 95,000 drivers in the same time frame, but only 157 of them were arrested for the same offense. That is about 1/1,000th of 1 percent.
“I think he pulled me over because of the color of my skin,” Alfredo Lopez-Fabia told KPNX.
A police department spokesperson, Lt. Mike Pooley, told the station that the statistics were alarming. “When we saw the numbers, they jumped out at us. It shows officer Lewis is a statistical outlier.”
The department placed Officer Lewis on desk duty while it carried out its investigation, the results of which were forwarded to the FBI and the Justice Department, which concluded that there wasn’t enough evidence to support the allegation that he was guilty of racial profiling.
“There’s not enough for us to say that he’s racially profiling, and he’s looking to target Latino Hispanics,” Pooley told KPNX. “He did everything by the book, by the letter of the law.”
Nevertheless, Lewis hasn’t been returned to his patrolling duties.
Community leaders say they want more than keeping him off the streets.
The immigrant-rights activist Salvador Reza is calling on the Tempe Police Citizen’s Review Board to recommend that Lewis be removed from the department.
The Board will make a recommendation to the department's chief, Sylvia Moir, sometime in the coming months.
“I’m very happy they took the keys to his car,” Magdalena Schwartz, an influential pastor in Mesa, told the news station, “and put him in the office with paperwork.”