AP

Police to limit Mississippi capital roadblocks after lawsuit

Oct 6, 2022, 11:25 AM | Updated: 3:01 pm

JACKSON, Miss. (AP) — Police in Mississippi’s capital city have agreed to pull back on aggressive roadblocks in response to a lawsuit that said Jackson officers were violating people’s constitutional right to be free of unreasonable search and seizure.

A settlement was filed Wednesday in the federal class-action lawsuit that the Mississippi Center for Justice and the MacArthur Justice Center filed in February against the city of Jackson and its police chief. The settlement bans general checkpoints and limits arrests and towing if drivers are ticketed for a traffic violation.

The lawsuit accused the police department in the 80% Black city of using roadblocks in majority-Black and low-income neighborhoods to try to catch crime suspects.

“Checkpoints — which don’t fight crime — are costly and wreak havoc on disproportionately impacted poor and Black communities,” Mississippi Center for Justice president and CEO Vangela M. Wade said in a statement Thursday.

The settlement says Jackson police can conduct safety checkpoints “only for constitutionally acceptable purposes” and “with a minimal amount of intrusion or motorist inconvenience.”

Jackson — which has a Black mayor, a Black police chief and a mostly Black police force — has been using roadblocks for years, with multiple officers stopping vehicles to check for driver’s licenses and auto insurance and to try to find people who are wanted on arrest warrants.

The lawsuit challenged the Jackson Police Department’s “Ticket Arrest Tow” effort that started in January, with vehicles being towed if drivers were arrested. Chief James Davis said in February that checkpoints were set up in areas with high rates of violent crime to find people with outstanding warrants for murder, aggravated assault or other charges.

During a Feb. 14 news conference, Democratic Mayor Chokwe Antar Lumumba described roadblocks as “useful tools.”

Cliff Johnson, director of the MacArthur Justice Center at the University of Mississippi law school, said attorneys in the lawsuit understand people in Jackson want law enforcement to take action against violent crime.

“But we must make certain that new initiatives by the police make good sense and don’t violate people’s rights,” Johnson said Thursday. “Studies show clearly that efforts like illegal roadblocks and hyper-enforcement of misdemeanor offenses are destabilizing and actually cause more crime.”

Two of the plaintiffs, married couple LaQuenza Morgan and Lauren Rhoades, told The Associated Press in February that police conduct roadblocks every few months in their mostly Black, working-class neighborhood. He’s Black and she’s white, and they said officers treat them differently. Rhoades said officers don’t even look at her driver’s license. Morgan said he can’t recall officers ever waving him through without checking his license.

Under the settlement, police will not be allowed to conduct checkpoints for general crime control or deterrence, or to check for narcotics or outstanding warrants for drivers or passengers.

The settlement also says if a person is stopped at a checkpoint for any reason other than a driving offense, officers may give tickets — but may not make arrests — if they find the driver without auto insurance or with a suspended driver’s license.

Also, people arrested during a roadblock must be allowed to identify another person to take custody of their vehicle. If the vehicle cannot be retrieved but can be legally parked, it can be parked instead of towed.

“JPD personnel shall only call a towing service as a last resort,” the settlement says.

The city also must ensure that towing companies make towed vehicles retrievable within 24 hours, including on weekends, and towing companies may not charge a storage fee for a vehicle within 24 hours.

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Follow Emily Wagster Pettus on Twitter: http://twitter.com/EWagsterPettus.

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Police to limit Mississippi capital roadblocks after lawsuit