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: 512632

Reported Deaths: 10262
CountyCasesDeaths
Harrison34853555
DeSoto33162432
Hinds32556641
Jackson24830389
Rankin22442402
Lee16238242
Madison14874283
Jones14086247
Forrest13741259
Lauderdale12249324
Lowndes11286193
Lamar10644140
Pearl River9707244
Lafayette8827143
Hancock7835132
Washington7550169
Oktibbeha7204138
Monroe6989179
Pontotoc6970109
Warren6849178
Panola6746134
Neshoba6726210
Marshall6653141
Bolivar6440151
Union633897
Pike5924156
Alcorn5862107
Lincoln5525136
George510180
Prentiss500884
Tippah490282
Itawamba4829107
Scott477499
Adams4766125
Tate4748116
Leflore4723144
Copiah455895
Yazoo455591
Simpson4543117
Wayne442772
Covington432895
Sunflower4299106
Marion4265112
Coahoma4227109
Leake413790
Newton395581
Tishomingo381793
Grenada3775109
Stone365666
Jasper340166
Attala337790
Winston317792
Chickasaw313367
Clay311878
Clarke301195
Calhoun284449
Holmes271289
Smith268952
Yalobusha243747
Tallahatchie231453
Greene224749
Walthall221366
Lawrence217840
Perry213356
Amite209557
Webster205148
Noxubee188642
Montgomery181557
Carroll174441
Jefferson Davis173643
Tunica163239
Benton152639
Kemper144941
Choctaw136527
Claiborne134238
Humphreys131139
Franklin124929
Quitman107528
Wilkinson105939
Jefferson96834
Sharkey65121
Issaquena1957
Unassigned00

Alabama Coronavirus Cases

Cases: 845108

Reported Deaths: 16115
CountyCasesDeaths
Jefferson1161242006
Mobile741961379
Madison53291732
Shelby38328368
Baldwin38074589
Tuscaloosa36017641
Montgomery34483781
Lee25557263
Calhoun22585518
Morgan22454406
Etowah20016517
Marshall18781316
Houston17729425
St. Clair16880358
Limestone16138218
Cullman16050303
Elmore15904294
Lauderdale14984306
Talladega14191299
DeKalb12971269
Walker12029380
Blount10715192
Autauga10517157
Jackson10161194
Coffee9415192
Colbert9341208
Dale9018191
Tallapoosa7255201
Russell707865
Chilton7018170
Escambia6955143
Covington6933195
Franklin6342108
Chambers5784142
Marion5403130
Dallas5285209
Pike5118109
Clarke484986
Lawrence4826129
Winston4780110
Geneva4642136
Bibb434094
Barbour369480
Butler3434100
Marengo342393
Monroe337066
Randolph334367
Pickens333188
Fayette330085
Henry320666
Hale318389
Cherokee317763
Crenshaw260477
Washington257052
Cleburne254460
Lamar251453
Clay250869
Macon244764
Conecuh192862
Coosa185047
Lowndes178168
Wilcox177438
Bullock152645
Perry141840
Sumter139241
Greene130245
Choctaw93228
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