A Mississippi sheriff, his deputies and other county officials are responsible for ensuring Black and white residents stay segregated through the use of checkpoints, a new lawsuit alleges.
The American Civil Liberties Union filed a class-action lawsuit Monday, May 8, accusing the Madison County Sheriff’s Department of targeting Black people for illegal searches and seizures. The complaint also accuses police of subjecting Black communities to lawless police tactics, including pedestrian checkpoints, roving roadblocks and even home invasions.
“The Madison County Sheriff’s Department routinely targets Black people through widespread stops, searches and arrests that are not based on reasonable suspicion of criminal activity, but on race,” an ACLU press release read. “These practices frequently use unjustified and excessive force.”
The complaint names 10 individuals who claim they were unlawfully searched, detained or arrested by the MCSD while doing everyday activities like walking to work, driving through the neighborhood or hanging out in their own homes. The ACLU now is seeking injunctive relief for the “thousands of victims” of the county’s unconstitutional policies.
Aside from being Mississippi’s wealthiest county, Madison County also has been touted as one of the most segregated places in America, according to ThinkProgress. Previous court decisions have highlighted the area’s “racial isolation” and its “confluence of … geography and demography.” Now, the ALCU is alleging that officials have gone so far as to use local police to sort of rope off the county’s 40,000 Black residents.
The discriminatory roadblocks and checkpoints, reportedly implemented and expanded by Madison County Sheriff Randall Tucker, are unlike a typical DUI stop drivers run into from time to time, the lawsuit contends. Instead, plain-clothes deputies lay in wait in unmarked cars and essentially ambush motorists.
The complaint claims that such checkpoints occur only in predominately Black areas of the county. Stopped drivers are then allegedly subjected to unlawful car searches and seizures, which the complaint likened to Arizona’s “show your papers” law.”
“[T]he roadblocks end where the white people start,” said plaintiff Bessie Thomas, who’s lived in Madison County for 50 years. She’s just one of several Black residents who claim they’ve been subjected to the checkpoints.
The complaint notes that while just 38 percent of Madison County residents are Black, approximately 73 percent of arrests in the county between May and September 2016 were of Black individuals. Moreover, 81 percent of arrests at roadblocks and 82 percent of arrests at pedestrian stops in Madison County were of Black individuals.
“Anytime I see a police officer, I feel my stomach drop,” said Steven Smith, 27, who was stopped and searched by plain-clothes MCSD deputies at a pedestrian checkpoint while walking home. “I can’t even walk to my house past the deputies without being stopped.”
The ALCU’s suit doesn’t stop at complaints over the checkpoints, however. County deputies also are accused of conducting illegal searches at residents’ homes in predominately Black communities without warrants. Resident Quinnetta Manning claims deputies forced their way into her home last June and demanded that she and her husband, Khadafy Manning, provide them with false-witness statement. Deputies reportedly beat Khadafy Manning, who is physically disabled, and threatened him with jail time after he refused to give a statement.
According to the complaint, Khadafy Manning was arrested by a MCSD deputy a few months later in retaliation for seeking “legal redress” for the injuries he sustained during the home invasion.
“I know that every American citizen has rights, but the Madison County police treated us like we didn’t have any rights,” Quinnetta Manning said. “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.”
Jennifer Riley Collins, executive director of the ALCU of Mississippi, argued that the “right to equal protection under the law and against unreasonable searches and seizures” is essentially nonexistent for Madison County’s Black residents.
“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,” Collins said in a statement. “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.”
Through their lawsuit, the ACLU said it hopes to ensure fair and unbiased policing practices in Madison County and throughout the U.S.
Official from the MCSD didn’t respond to requests for comment.