By Jonathan Kaminsky
OLYMPIA, Washington (Reuters) - The U.S. Border Patrol will submit to outside scrutiny and retrain agents in Washington state's Olympic Peninsula in a settlement to a lawsuit accusing the agency of racial profiling in traffic stops, officials said on Tuesday.
Two Latinos and a black man - two of them corrections officers - accused the Border Patrol in a lawsuit filed last year of unlawfully stopping them while they were occupants in vehicles in northwest Washington state near Canada.
The settlement comes as the Border Patrol has sought in recent years to bolster its enforcement along the northern border with Canada to guard against illegal immigration and possible infiltration by militants after an Algerian Islamist was arrested at an Olympic Peninsula border post in 1999.
"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 Seattle-based U.S. Attorney Jenny Durkan, whose office represents the Border Patrol, in a statement. The agency admitted no wrongdoing in the case.
Under the agreement, the Border Patrol will pledge to engage in constitutional policing and give refresher training to officers based in the Olympic Peninsula city of Port Angeles on traffic stops that require reasonable suspicion.
It will also provide a list of the vehicle stops it conducts in the Olympic Peninsula as well as the reason for each stop to the American Civil Liberties Union and the Northwest Immigrant Rights Project for the next 18 months. Those groups brought the lawsuit on behalf of the plaintiffs.
"Today's settlement is significant because (the) Border Patrol officially agreed to follow the Constitution and not racially profile Latinos and other minorities along the Peninsula," said Sarah Dunne, legal director of the ACLU of Washington state.
HIGH PROFILE BORDER CROSSING
The Olympic Peninsula is a 3,600-square-mile (5,800 square km) area in northwest Washington state, across the Strait of Juan de Fuca from Canada's Vancouver Island.
Port Angeles, at the north end of the peninsula with a ferry service to Canada's Vancouver Island, became a prominent border crossing after the 1999 arrest there of Algerian militant Ahmed Ressam.
Ressam was stopped after driving off a car ferry from Victoria in a vehicle filled with explosives he had planned to detonate at Los Angeles International Airport.
Since the late 1990s, the number of Border Patrol agents at Port Angeles has increased from three to more than 40, said Jorge Barón, executive director of the Northwest Immigrant Rights Project, which joined the ACLU in the suit.
A spokesman for the Border Patrol declined to say how many agents are currently assigned to the peninsula.
In the profiling case, the complaint detailed the experiences of plaintiffs Jose Sanchez, Ismael Contreras and Ernest Grimes. Sanchez and Grimes were corrections officers and Contreras was a high school student when the case was filed last year.
The lawsuit said Grimes, who is black, was traveling in a car in 2011 when he was stopped by a Border Patrol agent who approached with his hand on his holster and asked Grimes about his immigration status. Grimes was wearing his correctional officer uniform at the time of this stop, the complaint said.
For each plaintiff, the complaint accused the Border Patrol of conducting the stop because the individual was "a person of color based on his complexion and hair color."
The settlement agreement involved no exchange of money, Barón said. "Our clients' goal was forward looking, in terms of ensuring things got fixed," he said.
(Editing by Alex Dobuzinskis, Cynthia Johnston and Andrew Hay)