An African-American attorney who is the manager of the Felony Unit of the San Francisco Public Defender has filed a lawsuit challenging his own stop and search by the Alameda County Sheriffs. In the lawsuit, Kwixuan Maloof alleges that a deputy of the Alameda Sheriffs Department stopped him in his car for a flimsy reason, handcuffed him, and placed him in the back of a police car while they searched his vehicle. Mr. Maloof was ultimately released and not charged with any crime or traffic violation. The suit alleges that Mr. Maloof was targeted because he is black and that the Sheriff’s Department has a pattern and practice of racial profiling and other unlawful activity.
To be sure, the sheriffs will have their day in court and will have an opportunity to respond to tell their side of the story. Nevertheless, I just want to comment on the importance of ordinary, law abiding citizens taking action when their rights have been violated. Too often, the context in which judges learn of biased, arbitrary or unfounded searches is when contraband has been found. The individual – now a criminal defendant – is moving to exclude incriminating evidence that he claims was illegally gotten. The judge, at the back of his mind, is no doubt saying “Well the cops did find these drugs. Their instincts are pretty good.” The problem is that by definition the only searches over which a judge in a criminal department presides are those in which something illegal was found. For every search that turned up goodies, there may have been many more that turned up nothing. It’s only by innocent people speaking out and asking to be counted that we know the true scope of arbitrary and overzealous policing.