Landmark Consent Decree Provides Model for Litigating Abusive Police Practices in Rural Counties

Black residents of Madison County, Mississippi express joy in settlement aimed at ending racially motivated abusive policing practices

Affiliate: ACLU of Mississippi
October 3, 2019 12:00 pm

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JACKSON, Ms. — A groundbreaking consent decree, approved today by the United States District Court for the Southern District of Mississippi, 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 class-action lawsuit initially filed by the American Civil Liberties Union, the ACLU of Mississippi and the law firm Simpson Thacher & Bartlett LLP aimed to challenge Madison County’s unconstitutional policing tactics. 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.

“The Court’s order today affirms the simple but fundamental proposition, that in America police must treat everyone the same regardless of race,” said Joshua Tom, Executive Director of the ACLU of Mississippi. “The ACLU of Mississippi looks forward to playing its role in ensuring that MCSD adheres to the terms of the agreement.”

Brown vs. Madison County is groundbreaking, in that it is one of the first consent decrees in the state of Mississippi to address racialized policing.

At the time of the suit’s filing, Black individuals were almost five times more likely than white people to be arrested in Madison County. The named plaintiffs in the case were Black men and women subject to various forms of abuse at the hands of the Madison County Sherriff’s Department, including being unconstitutionally searched, detained, and arrested.

“When the Madison County Sheriff’s Department forced their way into my house and choked my disabled husband, they stole a piece of our humanity,” said Quinnetta Manning, a Madison County resident subject to an unconstitutional search of her home. “I know that every American citizen has rights, but the Madison County Sheriffs treated us as though we didn’t and made us feel less than American. I believe that this settlement agreement is not only a necessary step in reforming MCSD but a necessary step in returning humanity to the black residents of Madison County.”

The political and legal landscape of Madison County differs from the urban population centers where these settlements are commonly achieved, making this a model for litigating abusive policing practices in rural communities. This settlement came only after more than two years of litigation, which involved extensive discovery and testimony.

“The settlement contains provisions that will help ensure effective policing coupled with compliance with the protections of the United States Constitution,” said Jonathan Youngwood, a partner at the law firm of Simpson Thacher & Bartlett LLP, which has represented plaintiffs in this case along with the ACLU. “This positive resolution illustrates the power of effective federal litigation before an independent judiciary.”

Learn more about the case, Brown v. Madison County, here:

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