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¡No Se Deje!
Ernestina Valdez Mondragon was driving her daughter to school when she was stopped by a Dallas, Texas policeman. He cited her for making an illegal U-Turn, not having her drivers’ license and NOT BEING ABLE TO SPEAK ENGLISH. Mrs. Mondragon was so upset that she was taken to a hospital emergency room. Mrs. Mondragon, who does have a Texas drivers’ license, went to court to fight the charge for not being able to speak English. The judge dismissed the charges. An investigation revealed that Dallas police officers had issued 39 such tickets for not being able to speak English. Six officers from several different divisions had cited drivers for not speaking English.
Police department representatives first minimized the misconduct as merely the foolish mistake of a new and inexperienced officer. But after the additional 38 cases were publicized, a more serious response was required. Police Chief David Kunkle admitted that there is no law which requires drivers to be able to speak English. He apologized and said that all of the citations would be dismissed. He also said that anyone who paid the $204 fine would be reimbursed. He also said that he knew that this incident would most likely damage the relationship between the police department and the Latino community.
The police officer that issued the ticket to Mrs. Mondragon was a 33 year old trainee officer. As such, he is required to be accompanied at all times by a training officer. And, all citations must be approved by a supervising Sergeant. In this case, a training officer was present during the unlawful citation for not speaking English. And, the supervising Sergeant did approve the unlawful citation. The police department did not release the names of the other police officers that issued similar tickets for not speaking English.
It is still not known if any of the other victims of this unlawful activity pleaded guilty and now have a non-existent charge of “not speaking English” on their court records or listed as a traffic conviction on their driving records. A local judge stated that the authorities in these agencies should check to make sure that no improper penalties are imposed on these victims.
George Martinez, a law professor, said that the 39 cases sounds like a policy and that “Discrimination on the basis of language ability that targets Latinos sounds pretty serious to me.” Brenda Reyes of LULAC (League of United Latin American Citizens) said “It’s the principle of the matter that there are police officers out there representing our city who actually think that it’s a crime not to speak English.”
Police Chief Kunkle said “an officer has to know the elements of an offense or what’s necessary to constitute a crime.” This is what is so troubling about this case. Officers that must know the elements of the offenses have to study each one carefully. If this had been done, the trainee officer, and certainly the trainer and supervising Sergeant must have known that there is no such law. So why did this unlawful ticket have to go to court to discover that there is no such law. And what caused the other 5 officers to issue the other 38 unlawful traffic citations for “non-English speaking driver”? ¡NO SE DEJE! ®
Jess J. Araujo, Esq.