A former sheriff’s deputy in Georgia has been sentenced to nearly two years in prison for a scheme to unlawfully detain Hispanic drivers and demand that they pay money in exchange for not being arrested or deported.
Former Lowndes County Sheriff’s Deputy Jason Stacks was sentenced on Wednesday after pleading guilty to a civil rights conspiracy charge for targeting Hispanic motorists and exploiting their immigration status or language barriers for money, the Department of Justice announced.
In at least four instances in 2013, Stacks acted as sheriff’s deputy when conducting illegal traffic stops on his victims. Two civilians — Gloria Gallego and Miguel Angel Reyes — participated in the scheme and posed as bilingual and well-intentioned passersby. They would urge the driver in Spanish to pay up or risk being jailed or deported.
In one case, the driver did not have the $500 that the conspirators demanded. They followed the man home to collect the $300 he could scrape together from his relatives, and then they split the cash.
“Law enforcement officers take an oath to protect and serve the public and, based on the duty and responsibility that imposes, the public in turn invests them with great authority and respect,” U.S. Attorney Michael J. Moore of the Middle District of Georgia said in a statement Wednesday. “The abuse of that power and authority, such as happened here, lessens that respect and trust by the public in all law enforcement, thus victimizing not only the victims specifically targeted but all law enforcement officers everywhere as well as the public generally.”
Stacks, 29, was sentenced to 21 months in prison and two years supervised release in the scam. Gallego and Rayes, who both pleaded guilty to the same charge, were sentenced to 24 months and 30 months in prison respectively.
Claims of police corruption against Hispanic motorists are not isolated to the greater Atlanta area. A former police sergeant in New York’s Suffolk County has been accused of stealing from at least six Hispanic drivers.