ATF shows bias in drug stings, report says
High number of minority targets unlikely to be by chance, it says
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.