Madison County, Mississippi — the wealthiest county in the state — has a sheriff’s department intent on oppressing black residents.
People who have been repeatedly pulled over and harassed by the Madison County Sheriff’s Department (MCSD) are alleging in a class-action lawsuit filed Monday that they have been specifically targeted due to their race. Plaintiffs are suing with the help of the American Civil Liberties Union and attorneys from the international law firm Simpson, Thacher & Bartlett, who are representing the plaintiffs pro bono.
ThinkProgress reports that 35-year-old plaintiff Nick Singleton has been pulled over at least 20 times in the past year alone, despite having done nothing warranted of being stopped. The MCSD typically sets up roadblocks using unmarked cars and plainclothes officers, who swarm an unsuspecting driver at a moment’s notice. The suit alleges that the sheriff’s department’s practices not only violate citizens’ civil rights, but also their dignity.
“[T]he roadblocks end where the white people start,” 59-year-old plaintiff Bessie Thomas said.
The lawsuit also tells horror stories of citizens in Madison County, usually in majority-black cities like Canton and Flora, who say that police often violate their rights in their own homes, not just on the road or in public. County resident Khadafy Manning recounted a particularly terrorizing experience at the hands of MCSD officers who burst into their home on false pretenses:
Last June, for example, Khadafy and Quinetta Manning say a half-dozen white deputies barged into their home at 7:00 in the morning, first saying they were coming in to look for marijuana which they then made no effort to find. Instead, Quinetta Manning says, they sought to extract a false witness statement from her about an incident involving a neighbor. When Khadafy Manning, who walks with a cane due to a nerve condition, emerged from their bedroom to tell his wife she need not comply, deputies allegedly cuffed, choked, and beat the man before dragging him out to a squadcar in his underwear and referring to him as “Mr. Cripple.”
After Manning and others asked the ACLU for help, officers apparently caught wind of his involvement and proceeded to harass him, with one officer stopping him for “causing trouble” by “having people coming around here and asking questions” before handcuffing him and taking him into custody for driving on a suspended license.
Attorney Jonathan Youngwood told Think Progress that he was confident the harassment was a county-wide problem, saying he would confirm those suspicions in the discovery process.
“We’re going to get the internal documents of the police department and the county. Sometimes in internal documents people say things that get right to the heart of the thing,” Youngwood said.
The suit seeks injunctive relief for “thousands” of victims.
Kevin Wallace is a journalist with five years’ experience in print and digital media, and covers politics, media, and culture for the Resistance Report. He lives in Tallahassee, Florida.