‘Culture of racism’? Albemarle cop says high-volume black stops not racial profiling

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Andrew Holmes in 2011 as he left court after an improper driving conviction for rear-ending a car.

Hawes Spencer Andrew Holmes in 2011 as he left court after an improper driving conviction for rear-ending a car. Hawes Spencer

The Albemarle County police officer who is the defendant in three lawsuits alleging racial profiling picked up a fourth complaint last month. Officer Andrew Holmes heads to court September 21 and says that although his number of stops and arrests of black people far exceeds the rest of the department, he was not profiling when he targeted the plaintiffs for searches.

However, a former Albemarle police officer says in a sworn deposition the force has a “culture of racism.”

Albemarle County also is being sued, with the plaintiffs alleging it knew about Holmes’ targeting blacks—and did nothing about it.

The first suit, stemming from the late Friday night search of Bianca Johnson and Delmar Canada’s house, began April 26, 2014, when Holmes was sitting across from the 7-Eleven on Greenbrier Drive running the license plates of everyone who pulled into the lot.

A BMW registered to Johnson made Holmes remember a call for service involving a husband or boyfriend, according to Holmes’ motion for summary judgment. He then went to a database that pulled up associates of Johnson, and found Canada. He pulled up Canada’s photo and driving record, and learned his license was suspended for delinquent child support payments—all before Canada left the 7-Eleven.

Holmes pulled over Canada, who said he’d never gotten notice from the DMV that his license was suspended. Johnson arrived and asked for Holmes’ badge number. He gave Canada a ticket, and proceeded to run license numbers of another 49 cars, according to the motion.

According to Holmes, there was nothing discriminatory with this because he didn’t know the race of the drivers when he entered their plate numbers.

The plaintiffs argue in court filings that the reason he was at that particular 7-Eleven was because it was “principally frequented” by blacks and that he “connects African-Americans driving expensive-looking cars with drug dealing.”

Courts have so far supported the use of automated license plate readers, says John Whitehead, founder of the civil rights nonprofit Rutherford Institute. “I think it’s egregious and violates the spirit of the Constitution,” he says. “License plate readers are another step toward an Orwellian state.”

The next day, Holmes got a search warrant for the DMV license suspension notice that Canada said he’d never received, an unusual pretext for a search that Holmes acknowledged in a deposition he’d never done before. In his deposition, Lieutenant Darrell Byers, who has 18 years experience in law enforcement, said he’d never heard of anyone getting a warrant for paperwork.

Johnson and Canada were asleep when cops, including a member of the Jefferson Area Drug Enforcement task force, showed up at their house at 11:18pm to look for the missing DMV paperwork. For nearly an hour, the couple was not allowed to leave as Holmes rifled through their belongings, and asked questions about checks and cash he found. When the license suspension paperwork did not turn up, he gave Canada his driver’s license back and left.

“How could he think this guy was into drugs except that he was a black man driving a fancy BMW?” asks plaintiffs’ attorney Jeff Fogel. “This was a pretextual search. That’s why he went to their house at 11:20pm. That’s the time you raid a drug dealer’s house.”

Says Canada and Johnson’s court filing, “Officer Holmes believed that there was a chance that he would find some narcotics inside that residence.”

While courts have ruled pretextual searches do not violate the Fourth Amendment, the plaintiffs contend that Holmes’ “stereotyping” of black men driving expensive cars violates the equal protection of the Fourteenth Amendment.

The court filings also reveal that in a county where the population is 68 percent white and 18 percent black in sectors 1 and 2 that Holmes was assigned, his citations and arrests of African-Americans far exceeded that ratio. For example, in 2015, the only year in which Albemarle provided a racial breakdown of the force’s tickets and arrests in those same sectors, Holmes issued 47 citations to blacks and 44 to whites, and he arrested 40 blacks and 27 whites.

Meanwhile, the rest of the Albemarle County police officers in sectors 1 and 2 issued 285 citations, 62 to blacks and 210 to whites. County cops arrested 207 people and of them, 79 were black and 126 were white.

“Statistics alone cannot prove discrimination in this context,” argues Holmes in his motion, further saying that the plaintiffs must show that white people in similar situations were treated differently.

Holmes has racked up complaints from other black citizens (see sidebar on additional lawsuits). Five were filed with police between 2009 and April 26, 2014, and all were ruled “unfounded” or exonerated Holmes, according to his motion.

The county police force has an “early warning, early intervention” system when an officer gets three or more civilian complaints, according to court documents. In 2014, Holmes got 11 complaints from citizens and seven in 2015, but in a deposition, he says no supervisor ever spoke to him about the number of complaints. That, contends the plaintiffs, amounts to “deliberate indifference.”

A former Albemarle sergeant and 15-year-veteran of the force who left in 2012, Pam Greenwood says in a deposition the department had a culture of racism. She heard officers use the N-word in reference to African-Americans, and observed them targeting black drivers. She says she was afraid to notify her superior officers for fear of “negative consequences,” according to a court filing.

In requesting a summary judgment, Holmes is asking “whether a fair-minded jury could return a verdict for the plaintiff on the evidence presented,” and arguing that it would not.

“We’re hopeful the court will look at our argument and grant our motion for summary judgment,” says Jim Guynn, who represents Holmes and Albemarle County.

The case is scheduled for an October 2 trial.

More lawsuits from black plaintiffs

Rodney Hubbard says Andrew Holmes stopped him September 11, 2015, when he was driving his 70-year-old mother, Savannah Hubbard. Holmes claimed he smelled marijuana, handcuffed Hubbard for two hours on the side of U.S. 29, searched his groin area as well as Samantha Hubbard’s purse and brought in dogs, which failed to turn up any illicit substances. The case goes to trial May 1, 2018.

Similarly, on June 30, 2015, Holmes claimed he smelled pot when he ordered Leon Polk and UVA football player Malcolm Cook at gunpoint out of the car, which he searched for two hours without finding drugs. That case has a March 20, 2018, court date.

In August, Glenmore Country Club chef Cory Grady filed a suit that contends Holmes stopped him August 27, 2015, and claimed the headlights of his Chrysler 300 HC weren’t on. Holmes then said he saw a marijuana leaf on Grady’s T-shirt, according to the suit, and used that as probable cause to search the car, where he did find marijuana. Two felony charges against Grady were dismissed in circuit court when Holmes’ dashcam video showed his probable cause for the stop was bogus because Grady’s headlights were on when he stopped him.

What the statistics say

Albemarle County police officer Andrew Holmes arrests a higher percentage of black people than the rest of the department’s officers. (Arrests data for white and black people only.)

Albemarle County sectors 1 and 2 population

Black 18 percent

White 68 percent

Albemarle police 2015 (sectors 1 and 2)

Summons issued

62 black (22 percent), 210 white (74 percent)

Arrests

79 black (38 percent), 126 white (61 percent)

Andrew Holmes 2015

Summons issued

47 black (51 percent), 44 white (48 percent)

Arrests

40 black (61 percent), 27 white (39 percent)

Updated 9:58am to clarify that the summons and arrest numbers are from Albemarle’s sectors 1 and 2, not the entire county.

Updated 9:19am September 21 to further specify that arrest numbers are for sectors 1 and 2.

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