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Sheriff, ACLU propose plan in Mississippi racial bias case

Court documents show that attorneys for both the Madison County Sheriff’s Department and the African American plaintiffs are asking U.S. District Judge Carlton Reeves to approve the agreement.

The American Civil Liberties Union of Mississippi filed the lawsuit in 2017, saying officers in the majority-white Jackson suburb have unconstitutionally targeted black drivers and pedestrians in majority-black neighborhoods and have disproportionately subjected them to searches and seizures.

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

The proposed consent decree was filed Sept. 23, and Reeves is scheduled to hold a settlement hearing Thursday.

The proposal says the sheriff’s department does not admit to any “unconstitutional, illegal or otherwise improper conduct.”

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

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

The sheriff’s department would have a community advisory board that could accept complaints about the department and forward them to the sheriff. The board could also make recommendations to the sheriff. In June 2018, the department said Sheriff Randy Tucker had established a community advisory group, made up of black and white citizens.

The proposed agreement 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.

“Conduct checkpoints only for constitutionally acceptable purposes,” the proposal says. “Checkpoints or roadblocks shall not be conducted for purposes of general crime control or deterrence, narcotics interdiction or to check for outstanding warrants.”

The ACLU said when it filed the lawsuit that the eight plaintiffs had been “unconstitutionally stopped, searched, or arrested … sometimes violently, while they were merely walking to work, driving in their neighborhood, celebrating with family or just spending time in their own homes.”

The proposed settlement in Madison County comes weeks after south Mississippi’s Hancock County settled a separate racial profiling lawsuit that was filed in 2018 by a family of Native American and Mexican heritage. Under that agreement, the Hancock County Sheriff’s Department also did not admit to 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.”

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