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Brown v. Madison County, Mississippi

United States District Court, S.D. Mississippi, Northern Division

January 4, 2019




         This cause is before the Court on Plaintiffs' Motion for Class Certification. Having considered the pleadings as well as supporting and opposing authorities, the Court finds the Motion should presently be denied because membership in all of the proposed classes cannot be ascertained, and there is doubt as to whether all of the class members have been harmed in essentially the same way.[1] The Court, however, will not now dismiss the class action claim but, instead, will grant Plaintiffs an opportunity to amend their Complaint to cure the defects discussed by the Court herein. As Plaintiffs will be granted an opportunity to amend their Complaint, the Motions of Defendants for Summary Judgment on the claims alleged in the current complaint will be dismissed, without prejudice.

         I. Factual Background and Procedural History

         Plaintiffs in this civil action are all Black residents of Madison County, Mississippi, who allege that they have been subjected to one or more racially-discriminatory policing policy. According to Plaintiffs, for the past twenty years the Madison County Sheriff's Department (“MCSD”) has implemented a “coordinated top-down program” under which Blacks are methodically targeted for suspicionless searches and seizures. Plaintiffs further allege:

Pursuant to the Policing Program, the MCSD employs a series of integrated tactics to systematically conduct unreasonable searches and seizures of persons, homes, cars, and property on the basis of race. During the course of these illegal searches and seizures, MCSD deputies routinely detain members of the Black community without probable cause, and often issue citations and make arrests either without legal justification or to recover outstanding fines and fees, typically for minor infractions.

Compl., ¶ 52. The tactics allegedly used by the MCSD include the concentrating of vehicular roadblocks in and around predominately Black neighborhoods, apartment complexes, and businesses, which has resulted in greater number of Blacks being stopped and arrested. Id. at ¶¶ 57-76. Plaintiffs maintain that the primary purpose of the roadblock system used by the MCSD is to “target Black motorists, their passengers, and their vehicles for unreasonable searches and seizures.” Id. at ¶ 76. The other alleged purposes for the roadblock policy include the unconstitutional general interest in crime control, and the desire to enrich the coffers of the county. Id. at ¶¶ 77-79. Plaintiffs maintain that any claim by the MCSD that the roadblocks are conducted to verify drivers' licenses, vehicle registrations, or other traffic safety purposes is pretextual. Id. at ¶ 80.

         Another allegedly racially disciminatory policing tactic used by the MCSD is pedestrian checkpoints, which Plaintiffs maintain are also concentrated in predominantly Black neighborhoods. Id. at ¶ 81. According to Plaintiffs, any individual stopped during a pedestrian checkpoint is typically required to produce a driver's license or some other form of identification that is then run through police data bases to determine whether there are grounds for arresting the individual. Id. at ¶ 87. Plaintiffs allege that the “primary purpose of these pedestrian checkpoints is to conduct a fishing expedition to find any possible basis, no matter how tenuous, for issuing citations to and/or arresting members of the Black community.” Id. at ¶ 88.

         The third allegedly discriminatory policing tactic about which Plaintiffs complain is that MCSD deputies, while engaging in unrelated duties, frequently enter the homes of Black residents without consent, warrant, or probable cause, and then conduct warrantless searches and seizures. Id. at ¶¶ 91-96. Plaintiffs further allege that MCSD deputies will detain and/or restrain Black individuals who are not suspected of wrong-doing. Id.

         The final discriminatory policing tactic about which Plaintiffs complain is referred to as “Jump-Out Patrols”. These patrols are conducted by plainclothes deputies who “jump-out” of unmarked vehicles, and allegedly detain and search individuals without reasonable suspicion of wrong-doing or probable cause. Id. at ¶¶ 97-104. Again, Plaintiffs allege that the Jump-Out Patrols are frequently conducted in Black neighborhoods and in the vicinity of Black businesses. Id. Plaintiffs allege that the tactics used under the MCSD Policing Program have resulted in a disproportionate rate of arrests between Whites and Blacks in Madison County. Id. at ¶ 106 (alleging that almost three quarters of the individuals arrested in Madison County between May and September of 2016 were Black).

         According to Plaintiffs, the racially discriminatory policing policies about which they complain were initiated in the 1980's, and were adopted and expanded at the time Randall Tucker (“Tucker”) became Sheriff of Madison County, in 2012. Id. at ¶¶ 134-35. For example, Plaintiffs allege that Tucker has maintained the preexisting General Roadblocks Policy that allows MCSD deputies to “conduct random roadblocks.” Plaintiffs challenge this policy on the grounds that it does not place explicit, neutral limitations on conduct that can be used by deputies when performing the roadblocks, and it does not require deputies to use race-neutral criteria when selecting roadblock locations. Id. at ¶¶ 139-40. Plaintiffs also allege that Tucker has exhibited deliberate indifference toward the constitutional violations resulting from the policing policies used by the MCSD as evidenced by his (1) failing to investigate complaints of racially discriminatory practices, (2) hiring a deputy who had a history of using excessive force, (3) choosing to not establish rules or regulations that would prohibit racial bias, (4) deciding to not maintain data regarding the policies for statistical purposes, and (5) ceasing to maintain records of complaints made against MCSD deputies. Id. at ¶¶ 146-68. Likewise, Plaintiffs allege that Madison County has exhibited deliberate indifference toward the constitutional violations resulting from the policing policies used by the MCSD as evidenced by its failing to (1) establish policies to prohibit racially discriminatory policing practices and/or unreasonable searches and seizures, (2) train and supervise MCSD personnel in order to prevent them from using unconstitutional policing policies, (3) monitor MCSD deputies to ensure that the policing policies they use comply with constitutional requirements, and/or (4) discipline MCSD deputies who use racially discriminatory policing practices. Id. at ¶¶ 169-74.

         Based on these allegations, Plaintiffs filed a Complaint in this Court seeking relief under 42 U.S.C. §§ 1983 and 2000(d) against Madison County, Sheriff Tucker, and multiple John Doe Deputies. In their Complaint, Plaintiffs first request that they be permitted to proceed as the following class:

People who (1) are, or who appear to be, Black and those in their company, and (2) were, are, or will be in Madison County, and (3) were, are, or will be subject to the MCSD's policy, custom, and/or practice of systematically executing unreasonable searches and seizures of persons, homes, cars, and property on the basis of race.

Id. at ¶ 300. As to themselves and the putative class members, Plaintiffs request relief under Section 1983 on claims that their constitutional rights, as protected by the Fourth and Fourteenth Amendments, have been violated because the policing policies and practices used by the MCSD are targeted at Blacks, and have resulted in unreasonable searches and seizures (i.e. searches and seizures that are conducted without reasonable suspicion or probable cause, and are often accompanied by the use of excessive force). Id. at ¶¶ 310-15. Plaintiffs, individually and on behalf of the class, also request relief under 42 U.S.C. § 2000(d) on the grounds that the subject policing polices have been partially funded with federal dollars. Id. at ¶¶ 321-24. In addition to seeking declaratory relief, Plaintiffs request that the Court issue an injunction:

(1) barring the “MCSD from continuing its policy, practice, and/or custom of unreasonably searching and seizing persons ... in the absence of reasonable suspicion or probable cause and on the basis of race ... ”;
(2) requiring Madison County to establish an independent civilian complaint review board to investigate complaints against the MCSD, and to empower that board with the authority to (a) investigate the policies and practices of the MCSD, (b) subpoena documents and hear testimony during the course of its investigations, and (c) take binding disciplinary action against MCSD deputies who are found to have violated any individual's civil rights;
(3) requiring that Madison County and Tucker institute training, discipline, and promotion policies that are designed to eliminate the current policies and practices of MCSD that have caused the constitutional rights violations about which they complain;
(4) requiring that Madison County and Tucker appropriately and adequately supervise MCSD personnel;
(5) requiring that Madison County and Tucker implement measures under which deputies would be required to document, among other things, the locations and results (i.e. number and nature of issued citations/arrests, and the race and gender ...

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