Mississippi

Lawsuit: Mississippi County Running Pervasive Police Checkpoints Targeting Black Residents

Black residents in Mississippi's richest county are "under siege" from unconstitutional checkpoints and warrantless searches, an ACLU lawsuit says.

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Betty Jean Tucker says Madison County deputies illegally searched family and friends at a barbecue in 2014 // ACLU of Mississippi

Betty Jean Williams Tucker, 62 and a grandmother of 12, was hosting a barbecue for family and friends in the front yard of her home in Canton, Mississippi one evening in 2014 when she says an unmarked Madison County Sheriff's Department (MCSD) cruiser rolled up.

Two plainclothes deputies got out of the car and, without a warrant or consent, walked onto Tucker's yard and began searching all of her guests, including rummaging through pockets. When they failed to find anything, the two deputies got back into their car and drove off without an explanation.

It was an infuriating but regular occurrence for black residents of Madison County like Tucker, who have been subjected to illegal and discriminatory policing for more than a decade, according to a civil rights lawsuit filed Monday by the American Civil Liberties Union.

Tucker, 62, is now one of several named plaintiffs in a suit filed against Madison County and its sheriff's department by the ACLU in federal court on Monday. The lawsuit alleges that Madison County law enforcement have been using unconstitutional checkpoints, warrantless searches, and excessive force as part of a comprehensive program that illegally targets black residents, violating their Fourth and Fourteenth Amendment rights.

Specifically, the lawsuit accuses the MCSD of setting up illegal roadblocks and pedestrian "checkpoints" outside of majority-black housing complexes, conducting unlawful searches of people's homes, and in one case beating a physically disabled man in front of his family to coerce a witness statement from him.

"Taken together," the ACLU lawsuit says, "these policing methods have effectively placed the black community of Madison County under a permanent state of siege."

The Madison County Sheriff's Department did not immediately return a request for comment for this article.

Although Madison County is only 38 percent black, 81 percent of roadblock arrests between May and September of 2016 were black, according to the ACLU. Another plaintiff in the lawsuit, Nicholas Singleton, says he has been stopped at MCSD roadblocks at least 20 times in the past year. When deputies stop drivers and pedestrians at roadblocks, the ACLU says, they typically check the person's identification to see if they have outstanding court fines or fees, which also make the roadblocks a revenue-collection scheme for the county.

"Not only do they ask the driver of the car for his ID and insurance but also all the passengers, particularly if they're all black men," says Mississippi ACLU attorney Joshua Tom. "They will check every one of their IDs, run their names, and also do that same IDing and checking for pedestrians."

The roadblocks, the lawsuit says, "are much more than an inconvenience" for black residents of Madison County. "Passing through these unconstitutionally intrusive roadblocks is fraught with the potential for harassment, intimidation, demeaning searches, baseless citations, and possibly even arrest and subsequent incarceration."

Under the precedent set in the 2000 Supreme Court case City of Indianapolis v. Edmond, police checkpoints are only constitutional when they serve a special need, such as border security or stopping drunk drivers, not general crime control.

Yet in one public notice of upcoming roadblocks cited by the ACLU, the MCSD says the purpose "will be to check for Driver's licenses, warrants and whatever else we encounter."

The ACLU lawsuit is only the latest in a string of complaints against the Madison County Sheriff's Department over the past two decades.

Last year, a former MCSD deputy, Robert Gibson, filed a federal civil rights lawsuit against the sheriff's department, alleging he was wrongly fired after complaining about racial discrimination against black employees at the MCSD and the black communities the department polices. Gibson, a Marine Corps veteran, says he was repeatedly passed over for promotions he was qualified for, and that he saw MCSD deputies brutalize a handcuffed suspect on one occasion.

Included as an exhibit in Gibson's lawsuit is a letter from the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), a federal agency that investigates workplace discrimination, finding that there was "reasonable cause to believe [Gibson] was discriminated against in violation of Title VII of the 1964 Civil Rights Act."

Citizens complained to the Madison County Board of Supervisors in 2004, 2006, and 2007 about the roadblocks and discriminatory policing.

"The Madison County Sheriff's Department has a longstanding, potentially decades-long policy and practice of systematically targeting black people for unreasonable searches and seizures," says Tom. "It's illegal and it needs to stop."

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  1. It’s only a problem because they are targeting blacks. If they targeted everyone equally regardless of race then there would be no grounds to complain.

    1. throw more white people in jail problem solved

      1. The object is to LEGALLY throw the thugs in jail, color irrelevant

    2. Bullshit. But the racial angle is why the ACLU got involved.

    3. If the racial angle causes people to pay attention to police abuse, I’m not going to complain.

      1. If the racial angle causes people to try to solve the wrong problem, then I’m going to complain.

      2. If the racial angle causes people to try to solve the wrong problem, then I’m going to complain.

        1. If the past is any indication, people will get fed up with the racial angle and refuse to pay attention to policy abuse.

          1. Policy abuse too.

            1. I swear I typed ‘police’ both times.

        2. Sometimes the racial angle is the problem. Or a big part of it, at least.

          A lot of the problem would go away if there were fewer consensual “crimes” on the books and if police were more accountable. But as long as the laws exist as they are today, it’s good to make sure they aren’t used to unfairly target certain populations.

          1. Isn’t that what state initiatives are for?

        3. Is that really happening?
          I don’t see many calls for arresting white people more. I see people talking about body cams, militarization of the police, and rules of engagement, which is solving the right problem, at least part of it.
          Criminal justice reform and asset forfeiture reform have gotten big boosts in the last couple of years as well. All the stories about how Fergusen cops were using over-zealous citations to collect revenue also highlighted a libertarian concern.

          1. You don’t know how this works, Hazel? You can’t ever admit that black people are still targeted for their skin color, otherwise the progs have won.

            1. We solved racism back in the 60s. Everyone is treated totally equally now, by everyone.
              No racism anymore. Nothing to see here, move along.

      3. Why do you think the Civil Rights Act passed? When Whites say Blacks beaten with batons in the South knew this had to stop. If it could happen to Blacks, it could happen to them!

    4. no, read that court decision. Can’t pull these roadblocks except for specific purposes.

      I think the locals need to learn the laws, and when these dirty coppers demand ID from passengers, refuse, or from pedestrians, some copper walks into Grandma’s backyard and starts searching folks…. res, some will go downtown for refusing to obey unlawful orders. But when the smoke clears the coppers will have had their hands slapped and told “Doan DO dat no mo”

  2. If successful, to ensure it doesn’t happen again how much in punitive damages will the sheriffs have to pay for violating constitutional rights?

    1. Frankly, if the article is halfway fair, what should be done is to strip the sheriffs, arm the black residents with whips and pitchforks, and then give the LEOs a fifteen second head start. This crap shames me.

      1. We’re going to need a bigger wood chipper.

    2. Attention, but not too much.

  3. And some people insist that black people either (a) deserve it because they commit more crimes or (b) it’s not really happening, it’s all in your heads, nothing to see here, move along.

    It bears repeated emphasis that you don’t really have a free society if only *some* people’s rights are enforced.
    The government’s duty is to protect individual rights, and to enforce them, equally. Equal justice under law and all that. We should be ruthlessly vigilant against any disparities in how the government treats people.

    I don’t doubt that is this is happening at the criminal justice level, that worse stuff is happening at the bureaucratic regulatory level. i.e. Health inspectors citing black owned restaurants more frequently to collect the fines, etc.
    Nevermind occupational licensing and so forth, which keep the relatively poor from getting into licensed trades. Wouldn’t be surprised if the licensing boards were assholes to black people more often than whites and so on.

    Either way, we should maintain statistics on this stuff and make bureaucrats accountable for how they treat people.

    1. Accountable? Does not compute.

  4. When deputies stop drivers and pedestrians at roadblocks, the ACLU says, they typically check the person’s identification to see if they have outstanding court fines or fees, which also make the roadblocks a revenue-collection scheme for the county.

    Revenue collection is at least 90% of what cops do. Then about 9% is paperwork, and only maybe 1% of their time is spent actually fighting real crime.

    …in one public notice of upcoming roadblocks cited by the ACLU, the MCSD says the purpose “will be to check for Driver’s licenses, warrants and whatever else we encounter.”

    Because fuck you, that’s why.

    Also, isn’t Canton, MS where A Time to Kill was set?

    1. It’s always A Time to Kill .

      1. Everywhere.

        1. *Somewhere

          In fact, it’s the antipodal point to happy hour.

      2. If it’s always a time to kill it’s never a time to kill.

  5. Two plainclothes deputies got out of the car and, without a warrant or consent, walked onto Tucker’s yard and began searching all of her guests

    The fuck?

    1. Mississippi, dude.

      1. Mississippi, Goddamn.

  6. This commonsense step may not prevent every tragedy, but what if it prevented even one? Should we not be doing everything we can to save lives and spare families the pain and unimaginable loss too many Americans have endured?

  7. If these checkpoints stop even one tragedy, would it not be worth it?

  8. the MCSD says the purpose “will be to check for Driver’s licenses, warrants and whatever else we encounter.”

    Based on this, can anybody think of a reason (other than FYTW), why the FBI couldn’t just roll into town and arrest the sheriff and any deputies that were assigned to that road block for violating 18 USC 242 (Violations of Civil Rights Under Color of Law)?

  9. 1. When deputies stop drivers and pedestrians at roadblocks, the ACLU says, they typically check the person’s identification to see if they have outstanding court fines or fees, which also make the roadblocks a revenue-collection scheme for the county.
    2. Under the precedent set in the 2000 Supreme Court case City of Indianapolis v. Edmond, police checkpoints are only constitutional when they serve a special need, such as border security or stopping drunk drivers, not general crime control.
    3. The special need is generating revenue. There you go, all nice and legal now. Move along.

  10. Not a single person of color or of the female gender on the force is a whistle-blower? They are ALL in on it?

    The color of one’s skin and/or gender apparently does not make a difference in character. We will all abuse the power we are given.

    1. If you get to the end of the article, I note that there’s an ongoing lawsuit against the sheriff’s department by a former black deputy who says he was fired after complaining about discrimination and the checkpoints.

  11. ACLU cries “Wolf” – that’s never happened before.

  12. It is the iron rule of law, dummy. You want goofy legislators writing laws to control your neighbors’ behavior, you’re gonna get results just like this. Repeal government, its taxes, its laws, its law makers (usurpers of God’s prerogative), its law enforcers, its military and military industrial complexes and its wars abroad and at home in Madison County on black people living there. Get rid of all once and for all and live in a voluntary society where success depends on cooperation, the free market and the Golden Rule–not political connections. http://voluntaryist.com/ Don’t ask, “Who’s gonna fix the roads, unless you like the idea of paying for them with arbitrary stops, traffic-court fines and generally demeaning treatment of the subjects by their rulers.

  13. Abusive copping, which is rampant in the US, involves EVERYONE! As long as this stuff is treated racially, it’s not going to get the proper fix.

    How anyone can trust any cop these days is beyond me.

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