According to the McHenry County sheriff's official records of traffic stops, Pedro Lopez is not Hispanic.

Neither is Jose Salas.

Or Pablo Toxqui-Zavala.

That's despite jail records showing that the three had brown skin, spoke Spanish and were from Mexico.

The three were mislabeled by deputies as white, a practice that has become a focal point in a lawsuit alleging deputies targeted Hispanics and the department covered it up.

More than 1,000 other people likely were mislabeled as well, according to a Tribune statistical analysis using an established demographic method to estimate Hispanics. (See end of story for how we did analysis.)

Police are supposed to accurately log races of drivers they stop so the state can monitor whether departments may be targeting minorities. Mislabeling them could hide racial profiling.

In examining department, state and court data from 2004 through 2009, the Tribune's investigation indicated:

•The problem grew worse each year. By 2009, the statistical analysis showed, 1 in 3 Hispanics cited by deputies likely were mislabeled as white or not included in department data reported to the state.

•If mislabeling and underreporting are taken into account, the department's official rate of minority stops would have towered over its Chicago-area peers rather than appearing average.

•Department brass repeatedly missed warning signs of potential problems, even after a deputy complained that some peers targeted Hispanics.

Former Deputy Zane Seipler said the findings reinforce his assertion that he was fired in 2008 for complaining to bosses about racial profiling. The more he complained, the more mislabeling occurred to hide the profiling, he alleged.

"Any good cop could see there was a problem," said Seipler, who sued the department after his dismissal. "It's not rocket science."

The department's lead lawyer said Seipler was fired for falsifying tickets from two traffic stops. In an interview, James Sotos said the data indicate most mismarking was limited to two deputies, showing no department conspiracy to mislabel or target Hispanics.

But the agency has launched a fifth internal investigation, examining the practices of 51 deputies — about half the department's road force — to uncover any potential problems in mislabeling, stopping a higher-than-average rate of Hispanics or failing to log drivers' races.

"The sheriff is committed to making sure that there's not racial profiling going on," Sotos said.

The allegations underscore what critics say are major flaws in a 7-year-old state law that aims to gauge whether departments target minorities: The state provides no guidance on how to define race, and no agency is charged with verifying the numbers that each department reports.

In McHenry County, the revelations emerged from a bombshell allegation scribbled nearly four years ago.

'Accepted practices'