Sheriff's remarks draw scrutiny from ACLU

A civil rights group said Tuesday it will investigate a North Carolina sheriff's office for possible racial profiling after the sheriff said in published comments that “Mexicans are trashy,” and later apologized for making broad statements.

The American Civil Liberties Union of North Carolina said its first step was to file a public records request with the Johnston County Sheriff's Office for documents of traffic checkpoints and arrests. The group wants the paperwork by Sept. 19.

Executive Director Jennifer Rudinger said the request seeks county arrest records since January 2004, jail records, and documents from traffic checkpoints. Eight other groups joined in the request.

The action comes after Johnston County Sheriff Steve Bizzell apologized for comments he made in an article published Sunday in The News & Observer of Raleigh. Bizzell didn't respond immediately to messages left at his office Tuesday.

In the article, the newspaper said Bizzell drove slowly through a neighborhood, pointing out piles of garbage and cars with no license plates and remarking, “Mexicans are trashy.” He was quoted as saying illegal immigrants living in his county were “breeding like rabbits” and spreading a culture of drunkenness and violence.

The newspaper also wrote that Bizzell said he sympathized with laborers who know the same calloused-hand work he did as the son of a farmer, and acknowledged that immigrants have enriched the lives of many of his constituents.

He later said he didn't intend to make broad statements that reflected on legal and law-abiding Hispanics.

Hispanic residents featured in the article said they had noticed an increased law enforcement presence and felt targeted at traffic checkpoints. Rudinger said her group's actions will depend on what it finds.

“A bunch of us in the civil rights community were deeply alarmed,” she said. “If a law enforcement agency is found to be enforcing the laws unequally, that is a violation of federal and state law.”