Hispanic groups are demanding an apology from a North Carolina sheriff's department that held a Mexican immigrant for four days after deputies mistook tortilla dough for cocaine.
Though Antonio Hernández Carranza was released last week from Buncombe County jail, the area's Latino community remains angry.
"The least they should do is apologize. This would not have happened to a white person. A person suffers a nightmare for carrying dough in his car," Gustavo Silva, a volunteer with the Asheville organization Nuestro Center, told Efe.
Hernández, a legal immigrant who lives in Carson, California, got into trouble while driving to his sister's home in Johnson City, Tennessee. The siblings had not seen each other for 10 years.
Traveling east on Interstate 40 in a truck packed with tortilla dough, shrimp and Mexican cheese, Hernández, who had been driving for three days straight, missed the I-81 exit for Johnson City and ended up on I-240 in Asheville. Buncombe County sheriff's deputies found him stopped in an I-240 travel lane with his hazard lights flashing.
Hernández later explained that he stopped because he saw steam coming out of the hood of his truck. A deputy got out of his patrol car, approached Hernández's vehicle and told him to move, according to the motorist's account.
When Hernández drove off, the deputy followed with his lights flashing. The immigrant said he thought the deputy was simply escorting him, but other patrol cars blocked the truck's path and the driver was eventually forced to stop.
At that point, several deputies forced Hernández out of the truck and placed him under arrest. He was accused of ignoring the patrol car's flashing lights and of driving while intoxicated, though a subsequent breathalyzer test showed Hernández was not drunk.
Deputies impounded his truck, which they searched after a drug-sniffing dog indicated the presence of narcotics. The search led to 91 pounds of tortilla dough and other foodstuffs that authorities mistook for cocaine.
Amid the outcry from Hispanics in Asheville, Buncombe County Sheriff Van Duncan wrote an open letter detailing the circumstances of the arrest. Deputies were concerned about the "strange behavior" of Hernández, who did not respond to their orders to pull over, according to Duncan.
"The driver had to be forcefully removed from the vehicle and placed under arrest," the sheriff said. Duncan said the substance found in Hernández's truck tested positive for narcotics in three separate field tests and that it required a more sophisticated analysis by the state police lab to rule out the presence of illegal drugs.
"They still don't say they were wrong," Silva said, reacting to the letter from Duncan. "They engaged in abuse of power because they hit him during the arrest. We denounce the situation so this won't happen again. Hernández was discriminated against for being Mexican."