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Racial profiling by Pennsylvania state trooper on I-78? Judge says no.

By Rudy Miller | lehighvalleylive.com

A federal judge refused to agree with an attorney who argued his client’s car was searched by a Pennsylvania state trooper simply because the client was Hispanic.

Every car searched by Trooper John Stepanski in the year prior to searching Miguel Gonzalez Segovia’s car had at least one minority in it, according to defense attorney Michael J. Diamondstein. Thirty-four of the 36 cars had only minorities, Diamondstein wrote. Only two of those searches prior to Gonzalez Segovia yielded contraband, Diamondstein wrote.

Diamondstein argued in court papers that Stepanski had no legitimate reason to search the car driven by Gonzalez Segovia on Nov. 13, 2018, through Williams Township in Northampton County. Police found almost 200 pounds of drugs in the car, records say.

“The trooper did not have an explanation why in a county that is 86% caucasian all of his requests to search were of vehicles that contained minorities,” Diamondstein wrote.

In an opinion issued Friday, U.S. District Court Judge Joseph F. Leeson Jr. said those statistics don’t paint a complete picture of Stepanski’s record. Diamondstein looked only at cases where drivers were speeding five miles or less over the limit or were following too closely. Gonzalez Segovia was cited for driving 68 mph in a 65 mph zone and for tailgating.

And there’s no data on the ethnicity of the drivers in vehicle stops where Stepanski didn’t ask to search the vehicle. He pulled over 89 cars during that period, the judge wrote.

“The statistical evidence offered is insufficient and does not allow for the court to find that Trooper Stepanski made traffic stops or asked for consent to search motorists’ vehicles based on an alleged bias,” Leeson wrote.

The judge said Stepanski had reasonable suspicion to search the vehicle for a combined number of factors: Gonzalez Segovia didn’t have the address of the location to which he was headed. He said he was headed to Brooklyn but mistakenly said it was in New Jersey, records say. He had several suitcases piled up inside the car, according to court papers.

Gonzalez Segovia had driven from California and said he planned only to stay a day or two in Brooklyn, which didn’t make sense to Stepanski, records say. Interstate 78 is a known drug trafficking corridor and Gonzalez Segovia appeared nervous, records say.

Gonzalez Segovia was carrying 69 kilograms of cocaine, 14 kilograms of fentanyl and four grams of acetylfentanyl, records say. He’s charged with possession of drugs with intent to distribute. A trial is scheduled for Sept. 23.

The case is being prosecuted by Assistant U.S. Attorney Kelly Lewis Fallenstein.

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