The sheriff’s department in Madison County, Miss., has been systemically targeting Black residents to baseless searches and arresting them at disproportionate rates, according to a lawsuit.
The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) filed the suit on Monday, citing years of racial discrimination at the hands of the sheriff’s department. Ten individuals are named as plaintiffs in the suit, which is being filed against Sheriff Randall S. Tucker, six of Tucker’s unnamed deputies and Madison County.
“For Black residents, Madison County is a Constitution-free zone where their right to equal protection under the law and against unreasonable searches and seizures is nonexistent,” Jennifer Collins, executive director of the ACLU in Mississippi, said in a statement. “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.”
According to the filing, Madison County is 57 percent white and 38 percent Black. However, of individuals arrested between May and September of 2016, 73 percent were Black and 23 percent were white. The arrest rate for Black residents was nearly five times that of the rate for white residents.
During that same time period, “81% of arrests at roadblocks and 82% of arrests at pedestrian stops in Madison County were of Black individuals,” the suit notes.
“However,” the lawsuit continues, “white arrestees are 1.4 times more likely than Black arrestees to be charged with driving under the influence of drugs or alcohol. They are 1.1 times more likely to be charged with a drug crime. In contrast, Black arrestees face over 3.2 times the odds for white individuals of being charged only with a petty revenue-generating vehicle infraction, like having a burned out headlight or no seat belt. This data suggests a pattern of population-targeted as opposed to public safety-motivated policing.”
A USA Today analysis found that between 2011 and 2012, the arrest rate per 1,000 residents for the Madison County Sheriff’s Office was 92.4 for Blacks and 15.9 for non-Blacks.
The lawsuit details individual experiences the plaintiffs endured, including that of Khadafy and Quinnetta Manning, a married couple living in the city of Canton.
Khadafy Manning is 35 years old and walks with a cane due to nerve damage. Quinnetta Manning is 29. The couple is raising three young sons together.
According to the suit, in June 2016 authorities came to the Manning’s door at 7:00 am. One deputy reportedly asked (“without basis,” the suit notes), “Oh, y’all smoking weed in here”
Quinnetta Manning responded that they did not do illegal drugs, and the deputies came in anyway.
According to the Mannings, the deputies demanded that Quinnetta Manning provide a witness statement regarding a crime they believed the Manning’s neighbor’s boyfriend committed. Quinetta Manning said she did not witness any such crime. The deputies accused Quinetta Manning of lying and threatened that if she did not provide a statement “she could be treated as a suspect herself,” the lawsuit states.
When Khadafy Manning entered the room and told Quinnetta Manning she did not have to provide a false statement the authorities “flew into a rage,” the filing says. A deputy reportedly dragged, choked and handcuffed Khadafy Manning.
Quinnetta Manning captured part of the incident on video:
The incident made Quinnetta Manning and her husband “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” she questioned.
The lawsuit describes four facets of the “Police Program” that perpetuate the cycle of discrimination:
Vehicular roadblocks that are set up in and around Black neighborhoods, outside of Black businesses and near majority-Black towns. They allow deputies to engage in “highly intrusive, pretextual, and suspicionless searches and seizures.”
Pedestrian “checkpoints” that also allow for “suspicionless searches and seizures” and are primarily conducted near majority-Black living complexes.
Warrantless and consentless searches of the homes of Black residents
“Jump Out” Patrols that occur when deputies dressed in plainclothes operating undercover vehicles patrol Black neighborhoods and “aggressively target” Black residents.
According to the suit, both Sheriff Tucker and the Madison County Board of Supervisors “[have] been deliberately indifferent” to the sheriff’s office’s constitutional violations. Inaction on the part of the Board of Supervisors is equivalent to guilt, the lawsuit states: “By failing to take any steps to investigate or remedy the MCSD’s systematic targeting of Black residents for unreasonable searches and seizures, the Board of Supervisors has implicitly sanctioned and endorsed the program.”
Unequal Distribution of Wealth
The ACLU’s lawsuit also points also to a deep-rooted history of racial discrimination and segregation in the county that Tucker has allowed to continue. While Madison County is the wealthiest in Mississippi, it has long been racially segregated, with the wealth concentrated in the county’s white towns.
“Past Madison County Sheriffs have violently opposed racial integration, led white supremacist organizations, and willfully turned a blind eye to racially discriminatory conditions of confinement. These sheriffs used many of the same unconstitutional racially discriminatory policing tactics employed in the policing program,” the suit notes.
The two largest cities in Madison County, according to the lawsuit, are majority-white: the City of Madison and Ridgeland. Madison is 85.5 percent white and 10.2 percent Black, according to Census data. The median household income is $97,287, and the poverty rate is 3.5 percent. More than three-fifths of the population over the age of 25 has at least a bachelor’s degree.
Ridgeland is 59.5 percent white and 32.7 percent Black with a median household income of $56,747 and a poverty rate of 10.2 percent. Half of the population over 25 has at least a bachelor’s degree.
The county’s largest majority-Black municipality is the city of Canton. Canton is three-quarters Black and 20 percent white. It has a median household income of $39,910 and a poverty rate of 26.7 percent. Just under a quarter of residents aged 25 and older have a bachelor’s degree.
The demographics make it easy for deputies to target Black neighborhoods, according to the suit.