ATF shows bias in drug stings, re­port says

High num­ber of mi­nor­ity tar­gets un­likely to be by chance, it says

USA TODAY Weekend Extra - - NEWS - Brad Heath @brad­heath USA TO­DAY

A new re­port has found “strong, con­sis­tent and sta­tis­ti­cally sig­nif­i­cant” ev­i­dence that fed­eral gun agents sin­gled out mi­nori­ties for con­tro­ver­sial drug stings in Chicago.

The stings had been a cen­ter­piece of ef­forts by the Bureau of Al­co­hol, To­bacco, Firearms and Ex­plo­sives to tar­get vi­o­lent crime. Agents lured sus­pects with the prom­ise of a huge pay­day for rob­bing a drug “stash house” that did not ac­tu­ally ex­ist, then left them fac­ing long prison sen­tences for plot­ting to re­sell the imag­i­nary drugs.

An in­ves­ti­ga­tion by USA TO­DAY in 2014 found that the stings over­whelm­ingly tar­geted mi­nori­ties. At least 91% of the peo­ple agents charged na­tion­wide were racial or eth­nic mi­nori­ties. The ATF stings are par­tic­u­larly sen­si­tive be­cause they seek to en­list sus­pected crim­i­nals in new crimes, rather than merely solv­ing old ones, giv­ing agents un­usu­ally wide lat­i­tude to se­lect who will be tar­geted.

The Jus­tice De­part­ment in­sisted that the re­port be sealed when it was filed this month in fed­eral court in Chicago.

It was un­sealed Fri­day af­ter a re­quest by USA TO­DAY.

ATF agents op­er­at­ing around Chicago have ar­rested 94 peo­ple in the stings since 2006; 91% were black or His­panic.

The new re­port, pre­pared by Columbia Law School pro­fes­sor Jef­frey Fagan, found only a 0.1% chance that agents could have se­lected so many mi­nori­ties by chance, even if they were tar­get­ing only peo­ple with crim­i­nal records that sug­gested they were likely to be part of a rob­bery crew, as ATF poli­cies re­quire. Those re­sults, Fagan wrote, show that “the ATF is dis­crim­i­nat­ing on the ba­sis of race” in choos­ing tar­gets for the stings.

The ATF de­clined to com­ment on Fagan’s re­port.

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