Tempe Residents Ask Review Board To Fire Police Officer For Alleged Profiling

By Jude Joffe-Block
Published: Friday, December 4, 2015 - 8:12am

A group of Tempe residents are calling for the Tempe Police Department to fire an officer who they claim racially profiled Latino drivers.

The appeal to the Tempe Police Citizen’s Review Board to terminate Officer David Lewis comes after a department internal investigation did not find evidence the officer violated any policies. Still, after that investigation revealed Lewis had an unusual pattern of arresting more drivers for driving without a license than any other officer, the department removed Lewis from patrol and assigned him to desk duty.

This case is the latest twist in the ongoing debate in Arizona about the appropriate role for local police in immigration enforcement, and when such enforcement could be characterized as discriminatory against Latinos.

In recent years a number of immigrant Latino drivers have accused Lewis of misconduct and racial profiling.

An internal investigation completed in April revealed the people Lewis stopped in “on-view” vehicle stops in 2014 were 45 percent Latino, compared to the department average of 23 percent.  The investigation also showed Lewis arrested more people for driving without a license than any other officer. Only 23 people in 2014 were arrested for that offense by Tempe Police officers, but Lewis was responsible for 14 of those arrests. He also turned over several of those arrestees to ICE for deportation.

The investigation found that Lewis routinely looked up license plates while on patrol to find out if the registered owner of the vehicle didn’t have a license—a violation commonly associated with unauthorized immigrant drivers.

According to the internal affairs report, Lewis denied in an interview using a person's last name, perceived ethnicity, nationality or citizenship in making a decision to stop a vehicle. 

The department determined there wasn’t evidence to conclude Lewis was violating department policies on discrimination or conduct, and the allegations against Lewis were ruled “not sustained.”

Arizona’s immigration law, SB 1070, requires officers to determine someone’s immigration status if they have a reasonable suspicion someone is in the country illegally. That portion of the controversial law has been upheld by a federal judge.

The department did move Lewis from patrol to desk duty. But local immigrant rights activists Salvador Reza and Dr. Sylvia Herrera appealed that decision to the Tempe Police Citizen's Review Board, asking for a much harsher penalty. They said they filed the appeal on behalf of a group of Latino Tempe residents who had organized in response to what they felt was mistreatment by Lewis.

“That is the type of officer Tempe Police Department does not need,” Reza said referring to Lewis. “And what we are asking is for the Tempe Police Department is to terminate that officer.”

Tempe Police Department spokesman Lt. Michael Pooley said the department invited both the FBI and the Department of Justice to review this case but both declined to take any action.

“We take any of our complaints we get very seriously, especially racial profiling, First Amendment, civil rights violations,” Pooley said. “If we can show there was a violation we will hold our officers accountable, without a doubt.”