Class Accuses Mississippi Sheriff of Targeting Black Residents

JACKSON, Miss. (CN) – A Mississippi man claims in a class action that he was beaten and choked in his living room by sheriff’s deputies who forced their way inside his home as part of a top-down policing program targeting black residents because of their race.

Khadafy Manning, who is disabled because of a nerve condition and uses a cane, alleges deputies handcuffed and dragged him out of his Canton, Miss., home in his underwear last summer when he refused to write a false witness statement after telling them that “he knew his rights.”

Manning and his wife Quinnetta are part of a class-action lawsuit filed Monday by the American Civil Liberties Union against Madison County, Miss., and Sheriff Randall S. Tucker, who is accused of methodically targeting black residents with unconstitutional, racially motivated tactics.

The 86-page complaint was filed on behalf of 10 named black people – ages 27 to 62 – who claim the sheriff’s department routinely subjected them to unconstitutional pedestrian checkpoints and vehicular roadblocks, warrantless searches of their homes, and “jump out” patrols.

“In effect, the Policing Program has placed the black community of Madison County under a permanent state of siege,” according to the lawsuit filed in Jackson, Miss., federal court.

It says the program has instilled fear in many black residents, who avoid leaving their homes to limit their risk of running into an illegal roadblock or pedestrian checkpoint.

Plaintiff Steven Smith, 27, says he can’t even walk past deputies without being stopped and searched. Smith says he was arrested after a suspicionless stop by plainclothes deputies at a pedestrian checkpoint outside of his apartment in a predominately black affordable housing complex. Officers discovered that he owed the county a fine for a driving infraction and arrested and jailed him for 29 days, the complaint states.

The Madison County Sheriff’s Department’s policing program has a long history of treating black people differently and targeting them for baseless, invasive and often violent police stops, said Jennifer Riley Collins, ACLU’s executive director in Mississippi.

“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,” Collins said. “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.”

Black people are almost five times more likely than white residents to be arrested in Madison County, according to the lawsuit. While only 38 percent of Madison County’s population is black, 73 percent of arrests made by the sheriff’s department between May and September of last year were of black people, the plaintiffs say.

“This lawsuit aims to ensure fair policing practices in Madison County,” said Jonathan K. Youngwood, co-head of Simpson Thacher’s Litigation Department and one of the lead attorneys on the case. “We also hope that, through this suit, we can help to establish standards for non-discriminatory policing that can be applied throughout the United States.”

A spokesman for the Madison County Sheriff’s Department told the Associated Press the sheriff had not seen the lawsuit and would not immediately comment.

Tucker, who has been sheriff since January 2012, is accused in the lawsuit of encouraging deputies to target the county’s black community and expanding the scope of the program.

The plaintiffs seek damages for civil rights violations and an order preventing the sheriff’s department from continuing to implement the racially discriminatory policing practices. They also want the county to establish an independent civilian complaint review board with the authority to investigate civil rights complaints and issue disciplinary decisions against officers.

Their complaint was filed by the Simpson Thacher & Bartlett LLP and the ACLU.

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