Feds approve settlement in racial profiling lawsuit against Mississippi county

Published 9:37 am Friday, October 4, 2019

A federal judge approved a settlement Thursday in a police racial profiling lawsuit that African American residents filed against a majority-white Mississippi county, and a plaintiff said it will return “humanity” to those subjected to harsh treatment.

The American Civil Liberties Union of Mississippi sued Madison County in 2017, saying sheriff’s department officers in the Jackson suburb had unconstitutionally targeted black drivers and pedestrians in majority-black neighborhoods and have disproportionately subjected them to searches and seizures.

Both sides asked U.S. District Judge Carlton Reeves to approve the agreement that was filed Sept. 23. It says the sheriff’s department does not admit to any “unconstitutional, illegal or otherwise improper conduct.”

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The settlement says the Madison County sheriff must establish an “unbiased policing policy” and set new rules about traffic checkpoints and encounters with pedestrians.

The ACLU said in a news release Thursday that one of the eight plaintiffs, Quinnetta Manning, underwent an unconstitutional search of her home.

“When the Madison County Sheriff’s Department forced their way into my house and choked my disabled husband, they stole a piece of our humanity,” Manning said in the release. “I know that every American citizen has rights, but the Madison County Sheriffs treated us as though we didn’t and made us feel less than American.”

She said the settlement is “a necessary step in returning humanity to the black residents of Madison County.”

Although 38% of Madison County residents are black, the ACLU said, information collected from the sheriff’s department showed that between 2012 and 2017, black residents accounted for more than 70% of the department’s arrests and citations.

The “unbiased policing policy” says that people coming in contact with the department must be treated in a “fair, impartial, equitable, and objective manner” without regard to their “race, ethnic background, national origin, gender, gender identity, sexual orientation, religion, socioeconomic status, age, disability, cultural group, or political status.”

Officers will be required to have training about cultural diversity, implicit bias and police-citizen interaction.

The department also will be required to keep records that show the race of those arrested.

The settlement also says traffic checkpoints could not be conducted within one-quarter mile (less than a half kilometer) of specific housing complexes where the lawsuit said residents and visitors had been stopped and searched a disproportionate number of times.

Resolution of Madison County comes weeks after south Mississippi’s Hancock County settled a separate racial profiling lawsuit filed in 2018 by a family of Native American and Mexican heritage. The Hancock County Sheriff’s Department also did not acknowledge any wrongdoing, but it agreed to set new policies that limit officers’ use of race or national origin as a reason to stop and question people.

Plaintiffs in the Hancock County case were represented by the Southern Poverty Law Center and the Mississippi Center for Justice. The lawsuit said the family was detained for hours and underwent “extensive interrogation, threats and multiple unlawful searches because of their perceived race, ethnicity and national origin.”