By Gustavo Valdes and Thom Patterson, CNN
(CNN) - North Carolina pastor Otoniel Recinos has been offering an unusual warning these days to members of his church: Don't drive in nearby Alamance County. It's not safe, he warns them, because of the sheriff's department.
A two-year Justice Department investigation backs up what Recinos and other Latinos in the region say they've known for a long time: Traffic stops by Alamance County sheriff's deputies are sometimes part of a "pattern of racial profiling" aimed at searching for illegal immigrants, according to a statement this week by Thomas E. Perez, the assistant U.S. attorney general for the civil rights division.
Sheriff Terry S. Johnson has used offensive language when talking to Spanish speakers, the statement said, describing them as "Taco eaters."
Deputies were between four to 10 times more likely to stop Latino drivers for traffic violations than non-Latinos, the Justice Department said. Many of the stops took place at traffic checkpoints organized by deputies near Hispanic communities. Latinos were arrested for violations, while others got only warnings or citations, the department said.
The Justice Department also said Hispanics who were jailed after their arrests were discriminated against because they were targeted for immigration status checks.
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