Pennsylvania state troopers involved in all 11 cases of alleged racial profiling last year were cleared by internal investigations because the complaints were unfounded and motivated largely by anger, a top State Police official said Monday.
Sgt. William C. Slaton, heritage affairs commander in the State Police Equality and Inclusion Office, made the comments in the wake of a black Chadds Ford couple’s allegation that they were victims of racial profiling by a white state trooper in their own driveway last month.
The Inquirer first reported online Thursday that AstraZeneca senior executive Rodney Gillespie and his wife, Angela, both 52, were pulled over in front of their home shortly after midnight July 8, with their 17-year-old daughter, Jaida, asleep in the backseat. The rookie trooper, Christopher S. Johnson, 23, shouted questions, orders, and insults, then handcuffed Gillespie, the couple said.
The alleged traffic violation that prompted Johnson to pull Gillespie over was failure to drive within a single lane, or crossing the double yellow line, on the roadway just before he turned onto his street. Johnson told the couple that he had been following them for about two miles before turning on his lights and siren, they said. The Gillespies filed a complaint with State Police and are considering a lawsuit.
Slaton said Monday that the Chadds Ford incident is the eighth racial profiling complaint under investigation this year, making a total of 19 such complaints since 2018.
“I’ve reviewed all of those [complaints] because I’ve been in this position since 2017,” Slaton said in an interview in The Inquirer newsroom. “What I found is a lot of people get pulled over for a traffic violation, then when they end up with a citation, they get upset so they file a complaint with regard to bias-based profiling. So a lot of people just file that complaint just because they’re upset.”
Other complaints are filed, he said, because troopers may have failed to properly explain why they pulled motorists over. “So they think, ‘He racially profiled me,’” Slaton said. “I wouldn’t say just because somebody filed a complaint and they’re all unsustained that there is something nefarious going on.”
Slaton, who is black, declined to discuss the Gillespies’ case because it is under investigation.
Since 2016, none of the 32 racial profiling claims lodged against Pennsylvania State Police was sustained, meaning the accused troopers were cleared of wrongdoing in each case, according to department numbers provided to The Inquirer.
Still, Slaton, 38, said the public should have confidence in the process used to investigate claims made against state troopers, 93% of whom are white.
“We’re not going to let an allegation of racial profiling slide. We don’t want a member like that working with us or for us,” said Slaton, adding that growing up in Camden, he was a victim of racial profiling by police.
As heritage affairs commander, Slaton monitors and responds to hate and bias crimes, teaches cultural diversity and racial profiling awareness to cadets at the police academy, and helps to investigate racial profiling complaints against troopers.
When a complaint is lodged against a trooper, an Internal Affairs investigation is conducted by former criminal investigators who complete their work without issuing an opinion, Slaton said. The investigation findings are submitted to four officials who must agree in order for a complaint to be sustained: Slaton, two other commanders, and the deputy commissioner of administration and professional responsibility.
Sustained complaints are sent to the director of the Disciplinary Office, who determines the discipline, which can range from termination to retraining to suspension without pay, Slaton said.
“I am one of the many measures that we have in place to ensure that bias or hate or anti-religion or racism does not creep into this department,” said Slaton, who has been with the force since 2007. “I am a corrective measure.”
Chad Dion Lassiter, executive director of the Pennsylvania Human Relations Commission, spoke highly of his working relationship with Slaton, but differed sharply with him regarding the effectiveness of the State Police racial bias investigative process.
“What we have in Chadds Ford is that couple was definitely racially profiled,” Lassiter said.
“Moving forward, it would be advantageous to have an outside independent body to come in and investigate these claims in addition to the State Police for the sake of transparency and social justice,” he said.
“We do know that there is a thing called ‘driving while black,’ and minorities and others are not just making these claims up. We have to ask ourselves: Who polices the police? They receive claims, but there is no sustainability. So we have to ask ourselves what else can be done.”