HELENA — Most of the claims by four Hispanic men who accuse the Montana Highway Patrol of engaging in systematic racial profiling during traffic stops should be allowed to proceed, a federal magistrate judge ruled.
U.S. Magistrate Judge Carolyn Ostby recommended striking two allegations that the discrimination violated the Montana Constitution, saying the state claims can't be sued in federal court.
Ostby recommended against dismissing the three other allegations of U.S. Constitution and federal civil rights violations.
Her findings must be approved by U.S. District Judge Dana Christensen. Attorneys for Attorney General Tim Fox and Highway Patrol Col. Tom Butler are asking the judge to reject them.
The Montana Immigrant Justice Alliance said the four men were stopped for separate traffic violations and detained for up to two hours while highway patrol officers called federal immigration officials to determine whether they were in the U.S. legally.
The stops were for speeding, missing a front license plate and having a blue-tinted light shining on a license plate. In two cases, the men were passengers in the stopped vehicles.
Some were released after the checks, but patrol officers arrested one of the plaintiffs and turned him over to a Customs and Border Patrol station near the Canadian border, the lawsuit said.
The men claim the highway patrol has a policy of profiling drivers and detaining those they stop to ensure they are in the country legally. The patrol has no authority to assume the role of immigration enforcers and the policy violates constitutional rights of equal protection, against unreasonable searches and seizures and race discrimination by recipients of federal funding, the lawsuit said.
Attorneys for Fox and Butler argue there is no discriminatory policy. They are asking Christensen to dismiss all counts because the U.S. Constitution grants them immunity from being sued in their official positions in federal court for violations of state law - and they say the claims are all based on state law.
Ostby recommended dismissing two counts of alleged violations of the Montana Constitution, but the remaining claims are grounded in the U.S. Constitution and the federal civil rights act, attorneys for the men said in court documents filed Thursday.
They are asking Christensen to adopt Ostby's recommendations and allow the case to proceed.
Christensen has not yet made a ruling.