ATF stings spark claims of racial profiling: San Diego case cited as one example of bias

SAN DIEGO - New numbers related to federal drug stings appear to give more credibility to claims minorities are being targeted and racially profiled in parts of San Diego.

In undercover surveillance videos revealed in a "USA Today" investigation, Devin Matson is seen inside a car talking to an informant working with the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms and Explosives.

Matson's attorney John Kirby says he was riding his bike in central San Diego headed to a Narcotics Anonymous meeting when the ATF informant approached Matson and asked him to rob a drug house of cocaine worth millions of dollars, letting Matson keep most of the drugs.

In the videos, Matson and two others eventually agree to the deal, leading to an arrest.

Matson is now serving a 15-year sentence.

The type of sting that put him there is now under fire.

"The informant was trolling in a predominantly African-American neighborhood for people," said Kirby.

The stings are at the center of the "USA Today" investigation, revealing suspects netted in similar ATF stings are almost exclusively black or Hispanic.

According to the investigation, which combed case records, 91 percent of those caught up in the stings are minorities.

Minorities make up about 71 percent of federal drug and gun offenses.

"It's frustrates the hell out of me," said Mario Lewis, a community activist and owner of Imperial Barber Shop, "It's racial profiling and it's entrapment. It's not right and totally inconsistent with what this country is all about."

In January, residents from central San Diego held signs and voiced concerns of racial profiling to police. 

As for the stings, two federal judges in California this year have ruled that ATF agents violated the Constitution by setting people up for crimes they would not otherwise commit.

"I find it an injustice we are even having this conversation," said Lewis. "I think heads should roll."

In a previous article, the agency said they could not confirm the new numbers because they do not track the demographics of those arrested in stings.

U.S. Department of Justice spokesperson Dannette Seward issued this statement to Team 10:

These stings are not a major ATF enforcement strategy and ATF does not target minorities. ATF initiated more than 21,000 criminal firearms investigations in FY 2013, and only approximately 60 armed robbery stings were conducted. These cases represent an extremely small portion of ATF's criminal cases - ATF as a whole recommended 16,294 defendants for prosecution in 2013 alone, as a result of all cases handled in that year.

ATF does not target minorities or any specific type of individual - ATF focuses its investigations on violent criminal behavior in the Nation's most violent communities.

Armed robbery sting operations are sometimes used to disrupt robbery crews that demonstrate a propensity to harm the public through violent behavior (armed robberies/homicide) and whose activities have been documented either through criminal history, criminal reputation, or self incrimination. Defendants are often the "trigger pullers" in their communities and are currently involved in criminal activities or have past convictions for violent crimes.
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