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by Nathan Gonzalez –
Mar. 23, 2009 07:48 AM
The bumper sticker on Lisa Gopalan’s car reads “Islam means peace.”
But the Muslim woman and former schoolteacher believes her religion gained her the unwanted attention of Gilbert police, who arrested her for DUI when she failed a field sobriety test.
“I was so humiliated,” said Gopalan, who along with her husband was recently laid off. “I do feel I was racially profiled to an extent. The whole thing was so upsetting. I’m no criminal.”
While the Chandler resident awaits a possible misdemeanor charge of DUI for being impaired to the slightest degree, police opened an investigation into her claims that she was racially profiled.
“The Gilbert Police Department doesn’t make traffic stops or contact based on racial descriptors,” said Sgt. Mark Marino, a police spokesman.
The incident began Feb. 15 as Gopalan was headed to a Target store. When she approached Cholla Street eastbound on Warner Road, an officer noticed Gopalan’s car swerve into a bicycle lane, a police report states.
Gopalan recalled pulling a calculator from her purse, when “I felt the car swerve.”
The arresting officer stated the car swerved a second time before coming to an abrupt, “haphazard” stop at Gilbert and Warner roads.
Fearing anti-Islamic treatment, Gopalan said she removed her headscarf, or hijab. She was then asked to step outside of the car and then attempted to explain that she wasn’t under the influence of alcohol, she said.
The officer began a field sobriety test, which Gopalan performed poorly on. A short time later, a second officer arrived with a portable breathalyzer, which registered the woman’s BAC at 0.00.
“In my religion we don’t drink. That’s just something we don’t do,” she said.
When police attempted to arrest Gopalan, she pulled her wrists away from officers, the report said.
En route to jail, Gopalan admitted to taking Wellbutrin XL, an antidepressant and pain reliever she has used for about three years.
“I’ve never experienced any problems from (the medication) before,” Gopalan said.
When booked at jail, Gopalan said she was offended as guards checked her arms and fingers for signs she injected drugs.
The check is standard procedure for anyone booked on a suspicion of drug use, Marino said. “She was processed just as any other DUI suspect,” he said.
Once released, Gopalan and her husband were faced with a $203 impound fee for her car.
The following day, Gopalan contacted Mayor Steve Berman and Police Chief Tim Dorn, which triggered an internal investigation.
Marino said the department does not disclose information pertaining to ongoing internal investigations.
Also awaiting the outcome of the investigation is the Arizona chapter of the Council on American-Islamic Relations, or CAIR-AZ.
Executive Director Ahmed Daniels said the group is monitoring the internal investigation.
“Our primary goal is to make sure the civil rights of the Islamic community are adhered to,” Daniels said.
“We want to see where the police department is taking it,” he said. “What concerns me is Lisa’s case may be the tip of the proverbial iceberg.”
As that investigation continues, Marino warned motorists that prescription drugs can affect one’s ability to drive.
“Influence is influence,” Marino said. “Many drugs impact people significantly. If you’re impaired, your ability to drive the car is also impacted.”