Lawsuit: Madison County Sheriff Targeting Black People with 'Top-Down Program' | Jackson Free Press | Jackson, MS

Lawsuit: Madison County Sheriff Targeting Black People with 'Top-Down Program'

 Jonathan Youngwood, attorney at Simpson Thacher & Bartlett (left), plaintiffs Quinnetta Manning and Steven Smith (middle) and ACLU of Mississippi Legal Director Paloma Wu (right) take questions from the press after filing a federal class-action lawsuit against Madison County and Sheriff Randall Tucker.

Jonathan Youngwood, attorney at Simpson Thacher & Bartlett (left), plaintiffs Quinnetta Manning and Steven Smith (middle) and ACLU of Mississippi Legal Director Paloma Wu (right) take questions from the press after filing a federal class-action lawsuit against Madison County and Sheriff Randall Tucker. Photo by Imani Khayyam.

— Ten black Madison County residents joined the ACLU of Mississippi this morning to announce a new federal class-action lawsuit against Madison County and Sheriff Randall Tucker. The sheriff's department exposed these and other African Americans to "unconstitutional racially discriminatory policing tactics," the 80-plus-page lawsuit alleges.

Paloma Wu, the legal director of the ACLU of Mississippi, said the lawsuit is a result of a year-long investigation made possible by the help of dozens of Madison County residents who came forward to share their stories, as well as hundreds of pages of public records from the sheriff's department.

The lawsuit says Madison County Sheriff's Department's policing program includes vehicular roadblocks, pedestrian checkpoints, warrantless searches of homes and "jump-out" patrols in predominantly black communities in the county.

Wu dismissed the idea that the case at the department is due to a few "bad apples," and said the policies have been in place for decades.

"When you read the complaint and you look at all of the stories ... you'll get a feeling ... that the bad-apple theory is not a theory—it's a fantasy dreamed up by people who are afraid of the facts and afraid of change more than they love justice," Wu said. "We do challenge everyone in this community to open their minds to the stories and statistics and to be ready because change is coming."

Jonathan Youngwood, an attorney with Simpson Thacher & Bartlett LLP, which is serving as co-counsel on the case, told reporters that data show that black people in Madison County are almost five times more likely to be arrested than their white counterparts in the county, despite African Americans making up only 38 percent of the total county population.

"Almost 81 percent of roadblock arrests in Madison County between May and September of 2016 were of black individuals," the complaint says.

Youngwood said the plaintiffs are seeking an injunction from the federal court to stop the sheriff's department from using roadblocks, pedestrian checkpoints and warrantless searches, as well as establish an independent civilian complaint review board and increase training and monitoring of officers. The suit is brought under 4th and 14th Amendment claims, Youngwood said.

Quinnetta Manning, a Canton resident and one of the plaintiffs, shared part of her story with reporters Monday morning.

The lawsuit states that six white male officers "forcibly entered the family home" of Manning and her husband last summer, with no search warrant. The deputies "attempted to coerce Mr. Manning (Quinnetta's husband) to write a false witness statement against a neighbor's boyfriend," the complaint states. When he refused, "one of the deputies handcuffed him, choked him, and beat him in the back seat of an MCSD law enforcement vehicle."

Mrs. Manning recounted those events to reporters this morning and said she is still afraid to this day that the sheriff's department will come into her home and threaten to arrest her or her husband.

"I should not be treated differently just because I'm black or a black woman—I deserve to be treated with respect," she told reporters this morning.

Steven Smith, another plaintiff in the class-action suit, was arrested and at a pedestrian checkpoint outside his apartment complex, the complaint says. Smith was arrested and incarcerated for 29 days, the complaint says, after officers ran his ID and found that he owed the county overdue fines and court fees.

"It was very difficult for my family to have me away and not being able to work," he said at the offices of the ACLU of Mississippi this morning.

Gov. Phil Bryant vetoed legislation last month that would have prevented Mississippians from being thrown in jail just because they cannot pay fines and fees, among other criminal-justice reforms.

Beyond the injunction, plaintiffs are asking the Madison County Sheriff's Department to update its policies, make data publicly available and award the Mannings compensatory damages as well as pay the plaintiffs' attorney and court fees.

Several calls to Heath Hall, whom the secretary at the Madison County Sheriff's Department referred the Jackson Free Press to for comment, went unanswered this morning. Secretary of State records show that Hall is the president of a marketing group based in Madison, Strategic Marketing Group.

Email state reporter Arielle Dreher at arielle@jacksonfreepress.com and follow her on Twitter at @arielle_amara. Read more about local criminal-justice practices at jfp.ms/preventingviolence.

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