The ACLU of Mississippi says they have new evidence that shows the Madison County Sheriff's Office has been racially profiling.
Their class action lawsuit claims the Department's policing program targets African-Americans for suspicion-less searches and seizures on the basis of their race. They say they're seeking to improve training, supervision, monitoring, and discipline of MCSD personnel.
There were originally ten named plaintiffs, but that has gone down to eight men and women between the ages of 28 and 63. The ACLU says dozens of others have reported incidents in unnamed complaints.
The ACLU says black residents make up 38% of Madison County's population, but account for 77% of all arrests by the Sheriff's Department.
The Civil Liberty Union's requests are threefold: Stop selectively searching and seizing people of color; implement policies that ensure equal treatment; and document and release data.
"These requests will cause a culture change at the Madison County Sheriff's Department, and hopefully will cause African Americans and Citizens of Color in Madison County to feel safe," said Jennifer Riley Collins, the Executive Director of Mississippi's Chapter of the ACLU.
Madison County Sheriff Randy Tucker says it's Departments policy not to comment on pending litigation, so he couldn't meet for an interview after the ACLU's press conference. But in July of last year, the Sheriff filed responses to each of the ACLU's plaintiffs, and all 47 complaints.
For instance, a newly presented graph from the ACLU says road blocks are disproportionately set up in areas with a high black population.
Sheriff Tucker last July argued many of the walking patrols and roadblocks were only conducted at the request of apartment complexes and businesses. He also maintains checkpoints are set up almost equally in the Southern, predominantly white area of the county as they are in the Northern portion, which has an African American majority.
"Setting up a road block for the purposes of general crime control is unconstitutional. You cannot go and put road blocks in a community because you think it's a high crime area... If that's their reason for putting them there, they're per se unconstitutional. You cannot say, 'These are neighborhoods that need road blocks, and these are neighborhoods that don't," said Jonathan Youngwood, an attorney with Simpson Thacher & Bartlett LLP.
Youngwood is doing the case pro bono.
For allegations of "suspicionless searches and seizures" and "warrantless and constentless searches" the Sheriff responds to different plaintiffs' testimonies, which excluded important details that shift the narrative.
For instance, one plaintiff failed to mention a weapon involved, and another was uncooperative with police.
Two of the plaintiffs say their houses were searched illegally, without a warrant.
Lawrence Blackmon says deputies held him at gunpoint while they searched his home for his cousin, who wasn't living there.
"[It] Lasted probably around 15 minutes or so before I was out of the cuffs, and they were out of my home. I was at first angry and upset. It was a degrading and dehumanizing experience," said Blackmon at the press conference. "And it was just a reminder of something that we, in the black community of Madison County, have known for a very long time, which is that our constitutional rights can be disregarded at any time by a Madison County Sheriff's Department deputy, at a whim."
In a press release, Joshua Tom, the ACLU's legal director says they located in Discover shows forms that were pre-filled out for the arrest of black males.
"MCSD's own paperwork confirms that it targets Black citizens for arrest. In the course of our class certification discovery, MCSD officials produced template forms that deputies use in the course of their duties, and on those forms from at least two officers appear pre-populated checkboxes marking 'black,' 'male,' and 'arrested.' The evidence will show discriminatory and unconstitutional policing, and we are looking forward to presenting all of the facts as our case moves forward."
The ACLU says they do not believe this is an issue of "bad apples" at the Sheriff's Department - rather an entire culture in their Policing Program.
"None of the arguments, I believe that have been put forth, change the data that we've shown you, or about the percentages of arrest by race, which are inexplicable," said Youngwood.
The Madison County Sheriff's Department has until May 8 to file their response.
The ACLU's reply to MCSD is due July 2.
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