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Originally published Tuesday, September 24, 2013 at 5:28 PM

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U.S., ACLU settle suit over Olympic Peninsula traffic stops

Settlement of an ACLU-led lawsuit over alleged race-based stops by Custom and Border Patrol agents has eased tensions on the Olympic Peninsula, officials say.

Seattle Times staff reporter

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The American Civil Liberties Union of Washington and the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) have settled a civil-rights lawsuit over allegedly illegal traffic stops by U.S. Border Patrol agents looking for undocumented immigrants on the Olympic Peninsula.

The settlement, announced Tuesday, does not award any damages or legal fees to the plaintiffs, and the Border Patrol does not acknowledge that it made illegal stops.

A DOJ news release said the Border Patrol “will affirm its continued commitment to constitutional policing through a letter” to the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) and the Northwest Immigration Rights Project.

In addition, within the next year, agents at the Port Angeles Station will receive “refresher training on traffic stops” to ensure they abide by the Fourth Amendment protections against illegal searches and seizures.

The Border Patrol will also provide the ACLU with traffic-stop information for the next 18 months, under the settlement agreement.

“This settlement is confirmation that we can both ensure the safety of our borders and protect all members of our communities in a constitutional manner,” said U.S. Attorney Jenny Durkan.

The proposed class-action lawsuit was filed last year and named as plaintiffs three Olympic Peninsula men — all U.S. citizens — who claimed they were targeted for traffic stops by Border Patrol agents as a pretense to check their immigration status.

They included Jose Sanchez, a Forks resident who works as a correctional officer at the Olympic Corrections Center; Ismael Ramos Contreras, who at the time was the 18-year-old student-body president at Forks High School; and Ernest Grimes, an African-American Neah Bay resident who works as a correctional officer and part-time Neah Bay police officer.

Contreras said he was in a car with four others on their way to pick up tuxedos for a quinceañera — a traditional 15th birthday party — when the group was stopped July 22, 2011, in Port Angeles. He claims an agent took the car keys from the driver while four agents questioned Contreras and the others about their immigration status.

Contreras alleges he was questioned again in December outside the Clallam County District Courthouse, where a plainclothes agent approached and asked him where he lived and where he was born.

“Today’s settlement is significant because Border Patrol officially agreed to follow the Constitution and not racially profile Latinos and other minorities along the Peninsula,” said Sarah Dunne, the legal director for ACLU of Washington.

“The proof is with what we’ve been hearing from community members,” said ACLU-Washington spokesman Doug Honig. “The level of fear and anxiety within the community over the last three years has dramatically decreased because they no longer fear that Customs and Border Patrol will randomly pull them over on their way to visit a dentist in Port Angeles.”

Information from Seattle Times archives is included in this report. Mike Carter: 206-464-3706 or mcarter@seattletimes.com. Twitter: @stimesmcarter.

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