Hancock County sheriff sets policies amid racial profiling suit

Hancock County has settled a racial profiling lawsuit and its sheriff's department is setting new policies that limit officers' use of race or national origin as a reason to stop and question people, attorneys say.

Posted: Sep 20, 2019 9:54 AM

JACKSON, Miss. (AP) — A county in south Mississippi has settled a racial profiling lawsuit and its sheriff's department is setting new policies that limit officers' use of race or national origin as a reason to stop and question people, attorneys say.

A family with Latino and Native American background filed a federal lawsuit in November against Hancock County, Mississippi.

The Southern Poverty Law Center and the Mississippi Center for Justice, representing the family, said Wednesday that a settlement was signed last month and that the new anti-profiling policies are part of the settlement.

The lawsuit says Marcos and Stephanie Martinez of Taylors, South Carolina, their three children, two other relatives and a family friend were on vacation and traveling through Mississippi in June 2017 in the family van when a deputy stopped them on Interstate 10. It says the deputy asked if they were U.S. citizens, confiscated their passports and other documents and demanded to know if they were carrying illegal drugs.

The lawsuit says Marcos Martinez was obeying all traffic laws when he was stopped, and that he and the others in the van were detained for four hours — two on the side of the interstate and two at the sheriff's department. It says they underwent "extensive interrogation, threats and multiple unlawful searches because of their perceived race, ethnicity and national origin."

Stephanie Martinez and the couple's children are U.S. citizens, and she is of Native American descent. Marcos Martinez was born in Mexico, and at the time of the traffic stop, he had legal permanent residency in the United States. He has become a U.S. citizen since.

Marcos Martinez's mother and sister, who are both from Mexico and were in the U.S. on tourist visas, were in the van. The lawsuit says the family was driving from South Carolina to Mexico to return them home before their visas expired. The friend in the van lives in South Carolina and was traveling with the Martinez family so he could see his own relatives in Mexico.

Stephanie Martinez told The Associated Press on Thursday that because of the way the family was treated during the traffic stop, her children no longer trust law enforcement officers. The children are now 10, 13 and 15 years old.

"Now when they see a cop, they automatically think they're coming for us," Stephanie Martinez said. "It's hard for me to explain to them that they are supposed to call on law enforcement in time of need and they are supposed to trust law enforcement when I don't trust them myself."

Hancock County Sheriff Ricky Adam did not immediately return a call from AP seeking comment Thursday.

The sheriff's department's new policies say race, ethnicity or national origin may play no role in an officer's decision to stop, detain or question people unless those characteristics are part of a "credible, timely and specific suspect description" that includes other information such as a suspect's height or weight. The policies also say officers may not prolong a stop to check a person's immigration status and that the department must collect information about traffic stops, including the length of the stop, whether it resulted in a citation and the race or ethnicity of the person stopped.

Stephanie Martinez said she's pleased that her family's lawsuit brought about policy changes.

"I just want people to know that they have rights and they need to know those rights," she said.

The settlement includes a $90,000 payment from the county to the plaintiffs, a Southern Poverty Law Center spokesman said.

Attorneys for the Martinez family said that Hancock County said its deputies were acting under a program that promotes cooperation among local and federal law enforcement agencies. However, Gillian Gillers, senior staff attorney for the Southern Poverty Law Center, said in a news release that the program does not give local officers the authority to enforce federal immigration laws.

"This case is a powerful reminder that when local law enforcement tries to do the job of federal immigration agents, they will face costly legal challenges," Gillers said.

Mississippi Coronavirus Cases

Data is updated nightly.

Cases: 308737

Reported Deaths: 7139
CountyCasesDeaths
DeSoto20931250
Hinds19961410
Harrison17562303
Rankin13369277
Jackson13156243
Madison9950212
Lee9890170
Jones8310161
Forrest7542148
Lauderdale7221237
Lowndes6289144
Lamar613384
Lafayette6072117
Washington5291133
Bolivar4776129
Oktibbeha457197
Panola4458103
Pearl River4437141
Warren4299119
Marshall4286102
Pontotoc417572
Monroe4062132
Union404675
Neshoba4005176
Lincoln3886109
Hancock373385
Leflore3471124
Sunflower331589
Tate325384
Pike3215105
Scott311472
Yazoo305069
Alcorn299465
Itawamba297877
Copiah293965
Coahoma290479
Simpson289586
Tippah285168
Prentiss276659
Marion266279
Leake261773
Wayne261541
Grenada256484
Covington255280
Adams246982
Newton245761
George238547
Winston226081
Tishomingo222567
Jasper220048
Attala213673
Chickasaw205457
Holmes187172
Clay183254
Stone179733
Clarke177776
Tallahatchie176140
Calhoun165431
Yalobusha160136
Smith159334
Walthall131043
Greene129633
Lawrence126623
Noxubee126534
Montgomery125742
Perry125238
Carroll120926
Amite120741
Webster113832
Jefferson Davis105532
Tunica103225
Claiborne101330
Benton97525
Kemper95628
Humphreys94632
Franklin82923
Quitman78916
Choctaw73917
Wilkinson65128
Jefferson64828
Sharkey49817
Issaquena1686
Unassigned00

Alabama Coronavirus Cases

Cases: 521623

Reported Deaths: 10739
CountyCasesDeaths
Jefferson754061493
Mobile39067799
Madison34040496
Tuscaloosa25367444
Montgomery24019567
Shelby23186239
Baldwin20701302
Lee15589165
Calhoun14342311
Morgan14158271
Etowah13685346
Marshall11995220
Houston10404278
Elmore10011200
Limestone9852147
Cullman9503189
St. Clair9463234
Lauderdale9265228
DeKalb8757181
Talladega8115171
Walker7139275
Jackson6756110
Autauga6750103
Blount6519134
Colbert6229130
Coffee5424113
Dale4772111
Russell430038
Franklin420782
Chilton4101109
Covington4061114
Tallapoosa3907146
Escambia390174
Dallas3525149
Chambers3514122
Clarke347060
Marion3072100
Pike306176
Lawrence295995
Winston273172
Bibb256059
Marengo248361
Geneva246075
Pickens233259
Barbour226455
Hale218575
Butler212967
Fayette209460
Henry188044
Cherokee182644
Randolph177241
Monroe172540
Washington165238
Macon155648
Clay150155
Crenshaw149457
Cleburne146741
Lamar139734
Lowndes136553
Wilcox124427
Bullock121640
Conecuh109428
Perry107626
Sumter103232
Coosa99428
Greene91434
Choctaw58824
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