The ACLU of Mississippi, the ACLU, and the law firm Simpson Thacher & Bartlett LLP filed a federal lawsuit against the Madison County Sheriff’s Department to challenge its decades-old policing practices that employ unconstitutional, racially-motivated tactics that target the Black community.
The Madison County Sheriff’s Department routinely targets Black people through widespread stops, searches and arrests that are not based on reasonable suspicion of criminal activity, but on race. These practices frequently use unjustified and excessive force. The extreme targeting of Black neighborhoods and individuals for these unconstitutional and highly intrusive stops, searches and seizures impacts peoples’ ability to go to work, run errands, visit friends, sit on the steps outside one’s own home, and even walk down the street. These are liberties we all should be able to freely enjoy.
Black individuals are almost five times more likely than white people to be arrested in Madison County. While only 38% of Madison County’s population is Black, 73% of arrests made by the sheriff’s department between May and October of 2016 were of Black people.
The plaintiffs in our lawsuit are 10 individuals who – absent any wrongdoing – have been illegally stopped, frisked, searched, arrested, pulled over, subjected to unjustified physical force, or endured home invasions. Their stories, along with historical evidence and statistical data, reveal striking racial disparities in the Madison County Sheriff’s Department’s practices. The lawsuit showed that the department treats innocent people as if they are criminals, tramples on the rights of the Black community in Madison County, and perpetuates fear and suspicion of the police. These actions hurt their ability to provide and promote public safety.
On October 3,2019, the United States District Court for the Southern District of Mississippi approved a consent decree that will help to prevent the Madison County Sheriff’s Department from engaging in the racially motivated policing practices that have historically been their hallmark.
The approved decree implements several reforms to existing procedures and includes new policies that reform the pedestrian stops and checkpoints of the MCSD. To ensure these policies are implemented, the Madison County Sheriff will be required to train deputies on proper practice and evaluate their performance. The Madison County Sheriff’s department will also be required to collect and maintain data on checkpoints and pedestrian stops, subject to verification by a Community Oversight Board and Plaintiffs’ attorneys.
We hope this lawsuit will bring an end to the Madison County Sheriff Department’s unlawful, race-based policing practices in favor of policies that require accountability, transparency, and community involvement. The people of Madison County deserve justice that is long overdue.