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ACLU sues the Madison County Sheriff’s Department

May 08, 2017 Today, 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 will show 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.

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.


Federal Judge Orders U.S. to Reform Immigration Bond in Ruling on ACLU Lawsuit

(Los Angeles, CA) – A federal judge has issued a preliminary injunction ordering U.S. officials to implement substantial reforms in its system for setting bail bonds to ensure that immigrants are not detained merely based on their poverty.

The ruling, issued late Thursday by Judge Jesus G. Bernal of U.S. District Court for the Central District of California, orders the federal government to comply with constitutional requirements similar to those used in criminal cases when it sets bail bonds for immigrants. Specifically, the ruling requires that when setting a bond, U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) agents and immigration judges must consider the detainee’s financial ability to pay a bond, limit it to amount needed to ensure that the detainee will return to court, and consider alternatives to bail, such as supervised release.

“This important ruling recognizes that no person, regardless of immigration status, should be locked up merely because he or she is poor, and will help to put an end to the government’s unnecessary detention of immigrants who present no risk to the community,” said Michael Kaufman, the Sullivan & Cromwell Access to Justice staff attorney at the ACLU of Southern California (ACLU SoCal).

The ruling comes in response to Hernandez v. Lynch, a lawsuit filed in April by the ACLU Foundation of Southern California, the national ACLU, and pro bono attorneys from Skadden Arps, Slate, Meagher & Flom LLP on behalf of detainees in Southern California who languished in immigration jails, in some cases for years, because they could not afford the exorbitant bond amounts routinely set by ICE and immigration judges.

Among the plaintiffs named in the suit is Cesar Matias, 37, a native of Honduras who is seeking asylum. He spent more than four years locked up in a Santa Ana immigration jail because he lacked the money to post a $3,000 bond. Like Matias, dozens, if not hundreds, of immigrants in Southern California remain detained, without hope of release, solely because they are too poor to post bond.

“The Court’s ruling reaffirms that all people in this country—citizens and immigrants alike—are entitled to due process and equal protection of the laws, said Michael Tan, staff attorney of the ACLU Immigrants’ Rights Project. “Those rights are what make America great, and the ACLU is here to fight for them.”

In the ruling, Judge Bernal also denied the government’s motion to dismiss the case and granted Plaintiff’s motion for class certification. The certified class includes noncitizens in the Central District who have had a bond set by an ICE official or an immigration judge, but remain detained—a group that can number more than 100 people on any given day.

“By granting certification of a class, Judge Bernal’s ruling recognizes that global reforms are necessary to safeguard the constitutional rights of thousands of immigrants who, absent reform, will remain locked up and separated from their families solely because they are too poor to pay their bonds,” said Doug Smith, a litigation attorney with Skadden, Arps, Slate, Meagher & Flom LLP in Los Angeles. “The certification ruling also recognizes that bail bonds for immigration detainees should be determined under fair and consistent standards for all.”



ACLU: Charlotte Police Must Release All Footage of Keith Lamont Scott Shooting; Disclosed Videos Raise Many Questions

CHARLOTTE – The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) of North Carolina joins those calling on the Charlotte-Mecklenburg Police Department (CMPD) to publicly release all body and dash camera footage, as well as audio dispatch recordings, of the events surrounding the police shooting of Keith Lamont Scott, a 43-year-old man with a traumatic brain injury, who, according to the Guardian’s database The Counted, was the 194th Black person killed by U.S. police this year.

On Saturday, the department released portions of body and dash camera footage showing the moments immediately before and after police shot and killed Mr. Scott. But the department has not released all the video footage of the moments leading up to and following the encounter, leaving many questions still unanswered.

The ACLU stands in solidarity with Charlotte Uprising and others who are demonstrating in Charlotte, and we join them in demanding reforms in the wake of Mr. Scott's killing.

Susanna Birdsong, Policy Counsel for the ACLU of North Carolina, released the following statement:

“The videos released this weekend raise a host of questions about why police shot and killed Keith Lamont Scott, and whether, in doing so, the officers involved violated state or federal law, in addition to failing to follow the department’s own rules regarding the use of deadly force, de-escalation, when to wear and activate body cameras, and more.

“In the interest of full transparency, Charlotte-Mecklenburg police must stop releasing information to the public on a piecemeal basis and disclose all remaining body and dash camera footage, as well as audio of dispatch recordings, of the moments before and after Mr. Scott was killed. The public and Mr. Scott’s family deserve to see and hear all available information about whether something was in his hand and why a man who was suspected of no crime, other than the newly disclosed accusation that he possessed a minor amount of marijuana, is now dead.”

On the use of force:

“Although we don’t yet have statistics on the number of people with disabilities killed by U.S. police, Mr. Scott certainly was not the first. The videos we have seen so far of his last moments raise serious questions about why officers were so quick to use deadly force rather than any number of other tactics that could have de-escalated their encounter with a man who lived with a mental disability. In several videos, Mr. Scott’s wife can be heard telling officers that Mr. Scott has a ‘T.B.I.’ (traumatic brain injury) and had just taken his medicine.

“In 2015, the Charlotte City Council unanimously passed a civil liberties resolution that included directives for how officers should interact with members of the public, including those with disabilities, and how to de-escalate potentially violent situations. The available information suggests that the officers who encountered Mr. Scott did not abide by those directives, and calls into question whether the Charlotte Police Department has adequately trained any of its officers to respond effectively to such situations.”

On officer use of body cameras:

“We also have questions about why the officer who killed Mr. Scott was not wearing a body camera, as CMPD’s own policy states that ‘recordings shall occur prior to or in anticipation of an arrest’ and also apply to ‘suspicious vehicles or persons.’

“Missing audio at the beginning of the video from the officer who was wearing a body camera indicates that the officer in question did not turn on his camera when the department’s policy required him to do so. Because officers were engaging a person who they claimed was suspicious, and reportedly even left the scene temporarily to outfit themselves with additional gear, body cameras should have been turned on earlier so there would be full audio and visual accounts of what happened.

“Last year, Chief Putney announced plans to phase out dash cameras, citing their cost and the implementation of officer worn body cameras. The fact that a dash camera – and not a body camera – seems to have captured the clearest vantage of Mr. Scott’s shooting shows that dash cameras remain vitally important and the department must retain them.

“CMPD must release whatever audio and video footage remains of the shooting of Mr. Scott now. The department must not simply run out the clock on the new law that will block the public from seeing body camera footage without a court order. CMPD should do the right thing and release all the footage.”


As of October 1, a new North Carolina law, HB 972, will prevent law enforcement agencies from releasing body camera footage in the public interest without a court order. Under the law, which the ACLU has opposed, people captured on video by body cameras would also be barred from having a copy of the footage unless they successfully obtained a court order.

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