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Oregon State Trooper accused of racial profiling, misconduct

An Oregon State Trooper is the target of a class-action lawsuit claiming the drug interdiction cop underreported stops and targeted minorities.

PORTLAND, Ore. — Oregon State Police has celebrated the work of trooper Travis Peterson. Over the years, he’s seized cash, uncovered illegal drugs and even rescued puppies from the trunk of a car. OSP shared many of Peterson’s accomplishments in press releases and social media. But now, the drug interdiction cop from Southern Oregon is attracting attention for another reason — allegations of misconduct.

“Travis Peterson has been racial profiling on Interstate 5 and throughout the roads of Jackson County for years,” said Medford attorney Justin Rosas.

Later this week, Rosas plans to file a class-action lawsuit against Oregon State Police and Trooper Peterson on behalf of eight men who believe they were wrongly detained while driving through Southern Oregon.

“Part of this lawsuit is trying to look out for the over-policing of people who are just trying to move along — people of color predominately,” said Rosas.

 A review of OSP press releases and social media posts suggests over the past three years Trooper Peterson, and his drug detection K-9 Jaxson, have made numerous drug busts along I-5 near Medford seizing cash, along with large quantities of cocaine, heroin and methamphetamine.

Court records indicate several of those cases were later dismissed because Peterson allegedly conducted unlawful searches by expanding a traffic stop for a violation into a criminal investigation.

Attorney Rosas claims Peterson frequently stopped vehicles with out-of-state plates, where drivers looked like they were not from the area. “He targeted minorities,” wrote Rosas in a tort claim notice.

“Recent allegations of misconduct by an Oregon State Police trooper and his narcotic enforcement K-9 are concerning,” OSP responded in a written statement.

“The Oregon State Police (OSP) is aware of these allegations but cannot comment on pending civil litigation.”

An inter-office memo from the Jackson County District Attorney provided by Rosas indicates Peterson failed to document hundreds of traffic stops, as required by agency policy. From June 2020 through March 2021, Peterson failed to document 269 of the 750 traffic stops he performed, according to the DA’s memo.  

The state trooper also failed to document 40 of 139 drug detection dog deployments between those same dates, which impacts the accuracy rating of a K-9.

Additionally, some evidence went missing. According to the DA’s memo, Peterson seized an MDMA pill in December 2020 and .5 grams of methamphetamine, along with 1 ounce of marijuana in January 2021. “Peterson stated both were put in a plastic glove to store and be destroyed. Neither item was ever placed into evidence,” wrote Jackson County District Attorney Beth Heckert in the memo. “Peterson believes they were accidentally thrown away.”

Peterson could not be reached for comment. He’s currently on protected leave for an unrelated reason, OSP explained in a statement. The state agency did not elaborate.

RELATED: Oregon paid 288 state employees $3.2 million to stay home last year

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

Recently, vehicle searches by police have come under greater scrutiny.

A December 2021 ruling by the Oregon Supreme Court made it harder for police to search vehicles without a warrant.

Earlier this month, the state legislature passed a bill that would prevent officers from pulling drivers over for a minor infraction and require officers to inform drivers they have the right to refuse a search during a traffic stop.

RELATED: Oregon lawmakers consider bill that would limit traffic stops, ensure written consent for vehicle searches