ACLU sues Mississippi sheriff's department over violating blacks' rights

Reuters News
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Posted: May 08, 2017 1:33 PM

By Gina Cherelus

(Reuters) - The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) on Monday filed a lawsuit against a sheriff's department in Mississippi claiming it violating black residents' rights by subjecting them to groundless and violent searches and seizures.

The civil rights groups said it sued the Madison County Sheriff's Department on behalf of 10 local black men and women ages 27 to 62 who were unconstitutionally searched, detained, or arrested.

"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," Jennifer Collins, ACLU of Mississippi's executive director, said in a statement.

A Madison County Sheriff's Department representative did not respond to several requests for comment. The lawsuit was filed in U.S. district court in Jackson, Mississippi.

The tactics employed by the sheriff's department were unconstitutional and involved the use of pedestrian checkpoints, roving roadblocks, warrantless home invasions and plainclothes deputies jumping out of unmarked cars to target black individuals, according to the ACLU.

The civil rights group posted a video on Twitter recorded by one local resident, Quinnetta Manning, as officers questioned her and her handicapped husband in their home.

Manning, one of plaintiffs in the lawsuit, said Madison County deputies forced their way in, handcuffed, choked and beat her husband, and threatened the couple with jail if they did not give false witness statements.

She told the ACLU that the officers' abuse embarrassed her husband and made both of them "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?" Manning said in a statement.

Black residents are almost five times more likely than white residents to be arrested in Madison County, according to the ACLU. While only 38 percent of the county's population is African-American, 73 percent of arrests made between May and September of 2016 were of black people.

They also accounted for almost 81 percent of arrests at roadblocks, as well as 82 percent of pedestrian arrests, the group said.

Steven Smith, another black resident of Madison County who is also a plaintiff in the suit, said he was stopped for no reason by deputies who ordered him to show identification and conducted a groundless search that resulted in Smith serving jail time for a previous fine.

"Anytime I see a police officer, I feel my stomach drop," Smith said in the statement. "I can't even walk to my house past the deputies without being stopped and searched."

(Reporting by Gina Cherelus in New York; Editing by Daniel Wallis and Jeffrey Benkoe)