ACLU Challenges Madison County Sheriff’s Department’s Systematic Targeting of Black Residents for Unconstitutional, and Often Violent, Searches and Seizures

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ACLU Challenges Madison County Sheriff’s Department’s Systematic Targeting of Black Residents for Unconstitutional, and Often Violent, Searches and Seizures

Madison County Deputies Routinely Subject Black Residents to Suspicionless Stops, Searches, and Seizures, Using Show-ID Checkpoints, Roadblocks, “Jump Outs,” and Home Invasions

JACKSON, MISS. - The ACLU of Mississippi, the American Civil Liberties Union, and the law firm of Simpson Thacher & Bartlett LLP filed a class-action lawsuit today against the Madison County Sheriff’s Department over its unconstitutional policing program to systematically target Black people for illegal searches and seizures of persons, homes, and cars. The landmark lawsuit challenges the Madison County Sheriff’s Department’s coordinated, top-down program of selectively subjecting Black communities to unconstitutional policing tactics, including show-ID-and-search pedestrian checkpoints, roving roadblocks, “jump outs” by plainclothes deputies in unmarked cars, and warrantless home invasions.

The 10 named plaintiffs are Black people — men and women ages 27 to 62 — who were unconstitutionally searched, detained, or arrested by the MCSD, sometimes violently, while they were merely walking to work, driving in their neighborhood, celebrating with family, or just spending time in their own homes.

When Quinnetta Manning declined to allow the Madison County Sheriff’s Department into her family’s home, deputies forced their way inside and threatened her and her husband with jail time if they did not provide a false witness statement. When she refused and her husband told the deputies he knew his rights, they handcuffed and choked him in the middle of his living room. They called him “Crip” and “Mr. Cripple” because he is disabled and uses a cane to walk. They then dragged him down the stairs in his underwear and beat him until he submitted to writing the false statement. Terrified, Mrs. Manning did the same.

“I know that every American citizen has rights, but the Madison County police treated us like we didn’t have any rights,” said Mrs. Manning. “Taking my husband away from our home not only embarrassed him, but made us feel less than American. How can we show our children that we can protect them and keep them safe when the police can just come in my house whenever they want without cause? Now I’m scared to leave the house in fear of what may happen if I encounter the police.”

The Madison County Sheriff’s Department also operates pedestrian “checkpoints” and roadblocks in Madison County’s Black community, which are often set up at the entrances of majority-Black housing complexes. When these are in place, sheriff’s deputies order residents who wish to enter or leave their homes to produce identification, which the deputies then run against police databases for unpaid County fines. Many are also searched, without any evidence of wrongdoing. The notorious roving roadblocks in majority-Black communities do the same to cars — requiring every motorist to produce identification and many to submit to automatic, suspicionless searches.

Steven Smith was stopped and searched by plainclothes Madison County Sheriff’s Department deputies at a pedestrian “checkpoint” while walking by his home. He was ordered to produce his identification and required to submit to an automatic, suspicionless search. Because deputies discovered that he owed the county a fine for a driving infraction, he was arrested and jailed for weeks.

“Anytime I see a police officer, I feel my stomach drop. I can’t even walk to my house past the deputies without being stopped and searched,” said Smith. “Early this year, I was walking with a friend into my apartment complex. He and I had done nothing wrong, and there was no reason for the deputies to stop and search us. All they saw was two Black guys walking, and that was reason enough for them to treat us like suspects.”

“For Black residents, Madison County is a Constitution-free zone where their right to equal protection under the law and against unreasonable searches and seizures is nonexistent,” said Jennifer Riley Collins, ACLU of Mississippi executive director. “The Madison County Sheriff’s Department’s policing program has a long history of treating Black people differently and targeting them for baseless, invasive, and often violent police stops. These practices force thousands of people to live in fear and under constant threat of being subject to suspicionless searches and arrests simply because of the color of their skin.”

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Black individuals are almost five times more likely than white people to be arrested in Madison County. While only 38% of Madison County’s population is Black, 73% of arrests made by the sheriff’s department between May and September of 2016 were of Black people. Black people also accounted for almost 81% of roadblock arrests and 82% of pedestrian arrests.

“This lawsuit aims to ensure fair policing practices in Madison County,” said Jonathan K. Youngwood, co-head of Simpson Thacher's Litigation Department and one of the lead attorneys on the case. “We also hope that, through this suit, we can help to establish standards for non-discriminatory policing that can be applied throughout the United States.”

The lawsuit filed today seeks reforms that safeguard constitutional rights by promoting bias-free and evidence-based policing, transparency, and police accountability. This lawsuit also seeks improved training, supervision, monitoring, and discipline of officers who conduct these practices, and the collection of and public release of data on all roadblocks, stops, searches, and seizures to permit further analysis for evidence of constitutional violations.

“Nothing short of overhaul and rigorous long-term court and community oversight is required,” said Paloma Wu, legal director for the ACLU of Mississippi. “It’s past time to lift the blinds on the Madison County Sheriff’s Department and let the community hold them accountable. No legitimate law enforcement objective is achieved through systematically targeting Black people for unconstitutional treatment.”

 

For the complaint and more information about the lawsuit, please visit:
https://www.aclu-ms.org/news/2017/05/08/aclu-sues-madison-county-sheriffs-department

Co-counsel Simpson Thacher & Bartlett LLP is handling the case pro bono. For more information, please visit:
http://www.stblaw.com/about-us/news/details?id=5864e30e-743d-6a02-aaf8-ff0000765f2c

This press release is available here:
https://www.aclu-ms.org/news/2017/05/08/aclu-sues-madison-county-sheriffs-department

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The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) conserves America's original civic values working in courts, legislatures and communities to defend and preserve the individual rights and liberties guaranteed to every person in the United States by the Constitution and the Bill of Rights.

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