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A man of conviction

Had a Virginia district court judge made his inappropriate remarks before a jury, Edward Kehoe might very well be a free man. Alas, the 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals has found that since the race-based comments came during a suppression hearing, Kehoe is going to have to live with his weapons possession conviction.

According to Senior District Judge Robert Doumar, Newport News police had reasonable suspicion that Kehoe—a white man in a bar frequented predominately by African-Americans—was violating the law. In addition to two 911 calls from patrons concerned that Kehoe was drinking and carrying a concealed weapon, the bar is located in a known problem area, the bartender reported seeing a “bulge” around Kehoe’s waist, and Kehoe was the only person in the joint who matched callers’ descriptions: a white man in a blue and white shirt.

During Kehoe’s suppression hearing, Doumar made several remarks about Kehoe’s race, comments the 4th Circuit found to suggest that Doumar believed that Kehoe’s conduct was more suspicious because he is white. Doumar wondered, for instance, why a white man would go to a bar with different colored “clientele” after midnight and with a gun. Doumar compared Kehoe’s conduct to the Charleston church killings and suggested, in the eyes of the 4th Circuit, that had police not arrested Kehoe, he might have “engaged in racially motivated violence.”  

Penning the 4th Circuit’s opinion, Judge Diana Gribbon Motz wrote that while the court shares the lower court’s outrage over racially motivated crime, a person of one race being among a group of people of another race doesn’t necessarily mean that crime is afoot. Doumar’s “repeated reference” to Kehoe’s race was “clearly improper,” she wrote, but since there is no evidence that officers improperly relied on Kehoe’s race, nothing suggests that he received an unfair suppression hearing.

It’s not the first time Doumar’s words have been criticized. In 1991, he was blasted in the media for saying that people with AIDS who have unprotected sex “should be shot.”


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