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OSP trooper accused of racial discrimination in Rogue Valley in class-action lawsuit

A recent class-action lawsuit was filed against the Oregon State Police and Trooper Travis Peterson accusing them of racial discrimination and other forms of misconduct.

The lawsuit, filed on behalf of eight people, claims that Peterson pulled them over in the Rogue Valley along I-5 for minor traffic violations in order to search their vehicles for drugs or money. In one instance, a plaintiff alleges he was pulled over because his passenger side seat was reclined too far back.

Attorney Justin Rosas says that they are not just suing to hold Peterson accountable, but also “to try and confront the scheme of policing that allows someone to racially profile people on the interstate and for the institution and the system to continue to go on where it sanctions what is unconstitutional, discriminatory behavior.”

This is not the first time Peterson’s behavior has been called into question. In September, Rosas' office received a memo from the Jackson County District Attorney's office about the trooper.

“It showed that he had hidden, or not reported, roughly one third of his traffic stops throughout the nine months that they looked,” says Rosas. “And then also that he had underreported or hidden times when he had deployed his canine on vehicles.”

Peterson was also found to have improperly disposed of drugs, according to the DA's memo. It describes two instances in 2020 and 2021 when Peterson confiscated one MDMA pill, 0.5 grams of methamphetamine and one ounce of marijuana, but which were not entered into evidence. According to records, Peterson believes they were accidentally thrown out.

Jackson County District Attorney Beth Heckert says that they have no evidence of racial discrimination by Peterson and that her office does not have an investigative team to look into the lawsuit plaintiff's claims. She also says that there is no indication that he was trying to be deceptive by not reporting his stops.

Oregon State Police released a statement about Peterson last week.

“OSP takes allegations of racial discrimination and evidence mishandling seriously and has zero-tolerance for such behavior by its members. OSP investigates all allegations of misconduct and takes appropriate steps to address any behavior falling outside its policies, rules, procedures or law.”

The release goes on to mention that the eight plaintiffs were charged with crimes.

“The eight (8) traffic stops mentioned each involved the detection and seizure of a substantial amount of suspected illegal currency and/or contraband.”

Rosas argues this point is disingenuous since the charges were dropped after the searches were found to be unconstitutional.

Trooper Peterson is currently on unrelated paid leave.

Sophia Prince is a reporter and producer for JPR News. She began as JPR’s 2021 summer intern through the Charles Snowden Program for Excellence in Journalism. She graduated from the University of Oregon with a BA in journalism and international studies.