Judge suggests ATF targeting minorities in Ill.

August 2, 2013 (CHICAGO)

Ruben Castillo has been the chief federal district court judge in Chicago for less than a month and is known for having deep-rooted opinions on how race plays into law enforcement and the courts, the so-called color of justice. In a case before Castillo this week, he wrote a simple two-page order that suggests one federal law enforcement agency in Chicago may be unfairly targeting minorities.

When he was sworn in as chief federal judge in Chicago last month, Ruben Castillo pronounced the district court here as solid and evenhanded.

"Drug cartels - we've done 'em. Street gangs - we've done 'em. Terrorist cases - we've done 'em. Public corruption - we've done 'em. This court processes cases fairly and efficiently," he said July 6.

But some of the cases that come to court may not be fair, in particular some investigated by the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms.

In the order, Judge Castillo cites "potential bias" by the ATF in "phony drug stash house rip off cases," in which he says the "overwhelming targets" are "African Americans... none of the defendants were non-minorities" he writes in connection with the ATF case before him - five minority men charged with robbing a non-existent drug house.

The blunt suggestion of racial bias by investigators is not new ground for Judge Castillo. He appeared at a judicial conference a year ago in Hawaii, entitled "What Color is Justice: Racial Disparities in the Criminal Process" and talked about the prison population, with 20 percent more black men than whites.

"That is troubling to me," Castillo said in August of 2012. "And it should be troubling to every single person in this room. That is not to say there is discrimination. That's just to say that this is a fact... these are key moments to have a discussion about race in the criminal justice system. And everything is really set up - all the building blocks are there -for advocacy and for judges to use their discretion."

Judge Castillo's order in the current case requires the government to turn over records of ATF cases by race, so it can be determined whether there is a bias in which suspects are targeted in undercover cases.

An ATF spokesman says that such sting investigations are just one tool in the box but declined to comment on the allegation of racial profiling.

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