Fourth Amendment

A Federal Lawsuit Challenges Blatantly Unconstitutional Anti-Crime Checkpoints in Jackson, Mississippi

"You can't treat everyone like a criminal to find the criminals," an outraged driver says. In Jackson, apparently you can.

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Archie Skiffer Jr., who lives in Mendenhall, Mississippi, delivers food for DoorDash in nearby Jackson, the state capital, on weekday evenings. That side gig has been complicated recently by the anti-crime checkpoints that the Jackson Police Department (JPD) is using to catch "individuals with outstanding warrants" and other lawbreakers. Skiffer's experience with the JPD's "Ticket, Arrest, Tow" (TAT) program, which he and several other plaintiffs are challenging in a federal lawsuit filed yesterday, illustrates the impact of these blatantly unconstitutional roadblocks, which stop drivers without any evidence that they have committed traffic violations or otherwise broken the law.

"In his capacity as a food delivery driver, Mr. Skiffer does not feel he can afford to regularly encounter JPD's TAT roadblocks," says the complaint, which was filed by the Mississippi Center for Justice (MCJ). "When he learned of the practice through the press, he prepared to drive alternate routes or out of his way to avoid them. He has been using an app to monitor roadblock placement since TAT launched, and while driving in majority-Black and low income neighborhoods in Jackson, he has intentionally altered his route to avoid encountering multiple reported JPD checkpoints. He has seen the checkpoints as they were being set up. He has made food deliveries to people in these neighborhoods who have told him they would be driving themselves to get food for their families, but they do not want to sit at roadblocks."

The MCJ is seeking an injunction on behalf of Skiffer and other drivers who have likewise had to either put up with the indignity and delay caused by Jackson's suspicionless stops or go out of their way to avoid them. During the stops, police demand that drivers produce their licenses and proof of insurance. They ticket drivers who lack those documents and tow their cars. If police discover that people have outstanding warrants or are illegally carrying firearms, they make arrests. The lawsuit, which the MCJ wants the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Mississippi to certify as a class action, argues that the checkpoints violate the Fourth Amendment's ban on unreasonable searches and seizures.

"We cannot sanction stops justified only by the generalized and ever-present possibility that interrogation and inspection may reveal that any given motorist has committed some crime," the Supreme Court said in the 2000 case Indianapolis v. Edmond. Or as a driver who last week refused to produce his license and proof of insurance at a JPD checkpoint put it, "You can't treat everyone like a criminal to find the criminals." Yet city officials have made it clear that is exactly what is happening in Jackson.

"We come across some of these violent criminals who are wanted," a JPD spokesman said on February 16, according to the complaint. "That is the purpose of us having these checkpoints." He explained that the goal is to tackle Jackson's "crime problem."

Police Chief James Davis confirmed that the TAT program is aimed at catching criminals, precisely the purpose that the Supreme Court said is a constitutionally unacceptable motive for suspicionless stops. "We are doing everything we can to keep Jackson safe," he said on February 18. "We've got individuals with outstanding warrants that [are] wanted, and we're looking to bring them to justice."

That rationale is plainly inconsistent with the Supreme Court's ruling in Edmond, which said the Fourth Amendment does not allow suspicionless stops for the "primary purpose" of the "general interest in crime control." Responding to criticism of the roadblocks by local residents and the ACLU of Mississippi, Davis again admitted that his department is ignoring that holding. "They took it wrong, like there's something that we're targeting a certain group of people," he said. "Our intent is to get wanted individuals off the streets."

Mayor Chokwe Antar Lumumba, a self-described progressive who supposedly is committed to "human rights for human beings," is similarly unfazed by the police department's Fourth Amendment violations. "These roadblocks are important when we've had communities that have been plagued by car jackings, plagued by various forms of violence," he said on February 14. "These are useful tools to the police department to help mitigate some of those concerns."

Davis and Lumumba are both black, as are most of Jackson's police officers and residents. But as the MCJ lawsuit emphasizes, the TAT program "has led to the disproportionate placement of vehicular roadblocks, or checkpoints, in majority-Black and low-income neighborhoods." And that isn't the only way in which the checkpoints disproportionately affect African Americans.

The named plaintiffs in the lawsuit include an interracial couple: Lauren Rhoades, "a 32-year-old white woman," and LaQuenza Morgan, "a 33-year-old mixed-race African American man." Their experiences with the JPD's checkpoints, which the department was using periodically even before the official launch of the TAT program last month, have been markedly different.

Rhoades reports that she "is often waved through" checkpoints "without having to stop or speak to the officer or provide any documentation." When she is asked for ID, she "usually holds it up and the officer looks at it without taking it in hand, and then the officer waves her through without requesting she show proof of insurance."

Morgan, by contrast, told the Associated Press "he can't recall officers ever waving him through without checking his license." When he was "asked if he thinks he faces more scrutiny because he's Black," he replied, "Oh, yeah, yeah, yeah—100 percent."

Anita Gibbs, a 58-year-old black woman, "has gone through numerous JPD checkpoints in recent years, all in majority-Black and low-income areas of Jackson," the complaint says. Last week, "she went through one JPD roadblock on Ellis Avenue on her way to pick up her daughter, showing her valid license and current insurance card." On her way home with her daughter, Gibbs encountered "a different JPD roadblock blocking the other lane of Ellis Avenue" that "was set up between her and her home." Because "the thought of being delayed and disrespected by having go through a second JPD roadblock that day, with her daughter, was too much," she "took a longer way home." Gibbs said her experiences with the checkpoints reminded her "how it felt to be a girl walking in downtown Jackson when she was not allowed to go into certain stores or was treated differently when she did."

Davis bragged last week that "we done made over 100 felony arrests since we started in January." But even if Jackson police were treating white and black drivers exactly the same, their suspicionless stops and "papers, please" demands would be inconsistent with the Fourth Amendment, regardless of how many felons they have managed to apprehend.

"Just as the police cannot walk in every home to search for evidence of a crime or stop and delay every citizen walking down the street to pat them down for drugs or illegal weapons or check their drivers licenses to see if they are wanted for a crime, they cannot do the same with every motorist on the public roads," the lawsuit notes. "If they could, they might make more arrests for criminal activity, but our security in our homes and our freedom to go about our business in public would be very restricted. The Fourth Amendment prohibits unreasonable searches and seizures, and the Supreme Court has made it clear that wholesale stops of the kind being employed in Jackson are unreasonable."

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  1. We have a Township Police force that sits on both sides of a busy road during the time that the School Zone lights are on. They have license plate scanners and run every plate. How's this any different?

    1. They shouldn’t be doing that either.

      1. True.

        And, are the stopping everyone? You are being detained and interrogated for literally no visible cause.

        The whole point of the 4th is to stop governments from doing the "Show the man I'll find a crime" thing. Policing power given to governments necessarily must come with restrictions, even if it makes the job harder, because it is far to easy and tempting to abuse that kind of power.

        The fundamental principles are that it is better a guilty man be free than an innocent one be punished, and EVERYONE does minor things whether they know it or not, but they should be free to go about their business without the fear that those things as long as they're doing their best to abide. These principles were behind everything from the bill of rights to our jurispurdence -- everything from stuff like judging by your peers and jury nullification up to division of powers is meant to keep corruptible men from using their power unchecked to destroy the lives of individuals over whom they can exercise the power.

      2. Driving is a privilege you basically agree to monitoring when you accept the plates.

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        2. We won't let you out of your house unless you permit us a full body strop search doesn't seem like a legitimate argument.

    2. 1. You drive by a camera. You don't stop and probably don't notice it's happened.

      2. You are pulled over. You take out your ID. The cop takes the ID back and checks you out. Returns with your ID. "Thank you for your co-operation, Citizen". You now can drive on.

      Yeah, really just the same thing.

      1. Why would they stop people who don't have any problems?

        1. Because they're cops. What color is the sky in your world?

    3. “Seizure”

  2. Black Democrats (Mayor and Police Chief, at least) violating Constitutional rights in majority-Black neighborhoods, if the DoorDash driver is correct. Why should we be surprised?

    1. I've never been pulled over by black cops under these conditions. Not the same with white ones.

  3. "We cannot sanction stops justified only by the generalized and ever-present possibility that interrogation and inspection may reveal that any given motorist has committed some crime,"

    I mean, if you let them do stuff like this, they might start strip searching people just because they want to fly somewhere!

    1. Or lock down people in their homes because it's possible they might carry a virus. Maybe force people out of their jobs if they don't take experimental drugs to make the cronies in drug companies rich. All on a generalized assertion.

  4. The real cure is accountability. I have mentioned my libertopia warrant scheme before: any illegal or illegally executed warrants, and all warrants for the losing parties, rebound on the author / executor. Here, once some court rules these illegal, every single one rebounds: the victims have one year to do the same to the cops. If there are five cops at the checkpoint, those searches rebound on all five cops, plus the chief and whomever else in the chain of command approved them. Possibly any city lawyer who approved it, and it sounds like the mayor too.

    But that's never gonna happen.

    I sometimes think one of the prerequisites for even running for office is having graduated some kind of constitutionality / civic responsibility course lasting a month or two. But its curriculum would be set by government, making it useless.

  5. Now explain how sobriety checkpoints are legal, stopping everyone with no probable cause.

    1. Lack of sobriety impacts one's ability to operate a vehicle safely, thus creating an immediate danger to other drivers.

      1. Does not address the assumption of guilt inherent in the checkpoints.

      2. "Lack of sobriety impacts one's ability to operate a vehicle safely, thus creating an immediate danger to other drivers."

        Which says absolutely nothing regarding random stops.

    2. Because drunk driving is bad and not even the Supreme Court wants to be seen as pro-drunk-driving. Same reason why they uphold lifetime "no-this-isn't punishment" for sex offenders.

      Now I'm wondering if what they're doing would be legal if they just brought a breathalyzer along. (Maybe not; it would be hard to justify such a checkpoint at certain times of day when people aren't generally drunk.)

  6. illustrates the impact of these blatantly unconstitutional roadblocks, which stop drivers without any evidence that they have committed traffic violations or otherwise broken the law

    In what way are these "blatantly unconstitutional"? How about some analysis?

    1. Citing a Supreme Court case that is spot on isn’t good enough?

  7. "Davis and Lumumba are both black, as are most of Jackson's police officers and residents. But as the MCJ lawsuit emphasizes, the TAT program "has led to the disproportionate placement of vehicular roadblocks, or checkpoints, in majority-Black and low-income neighborhoods.""

    Still, it makes the race-turbation more difficult and less...fulfilling.

    Maybe they've internalized whiteness blah blah?

    Or maybe maybe these types of officials are all authoritarians under the skin, as it were.

  8. People in authority have no regard for laws or the constiution. Humans are so inherently flawed that they cannot help but abuse power. ALL police treat everyone like criminals and as my great uncles LEO's used to say, "If you cannot find a violation it is just because you don't want to."

  9. When we need a law to force people, e.g., cops, with extraordinary powers to use their powers responsibly in one particular case, we have a big problem. What about all cases, too many to name?
    Two solutions present themselves. 1. Take away their powers. 2. Punish the irresponsible.
    The rebuttal: We need our powers and we will "police" ourselves.
    The re-rebuttal: You haven't proven you are special, deserving of special privileges, but you have proven you won't act responsibly. Therefore, why would we give you power you routinely abuse? The abuse proves a lack of personal control and immorality. Your justifications are further proof. You make it impossible to support your authority over us.

  10. According to self identified lawyers on YouTube, in general, a police officer in the US can not force you to give up documentation or state your reason for motoring unless they have a specified reason for stopping specifically you. Details are, of course, controlled by the local laws. There was even a video of somebody doing this at a police roadblock somewhere in the Pacific North West of the US. The cops had to let him go.

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