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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: 252475

Reported Deaths: 5521
CountyCasesDeaths
DeSoto17120175
Hinds16207322
Harrison13353193
Rankin10689211
Jackson10303183
Lee8796141
Madison8232162
Jones6288110
Forrest5949119
Lauderdale5847180
Lowndes5355116
Lafayette494292
Lamar484165
Washington4777123
Bolivar3966108
Oktibbeha392480
Panola368378
Pontotoc362853
Monroe3533105
Warren348498
Union343060
Marshall341665
Neshoba3370152
Pearl River327899
Leflore3002105
Lincoln297085
Sunflower282669
Tate270862
Hancock266559
Alcorn263253
Itawamba262459
Pike262077
Scott246245
Prentiss245052
Yazoo244355
Copiah240849
Tippah240450
Simpson234867
Leake230564
Coahoma230054
Grenada217770
Covington211371
Marion210672
Adams204670
Winston200164
Wayne199630
George199038
Attala193559
Newton191342
Tishomingo184459
Chickasaw183644
Jasper169735
Holmes168567
Clay159033
Stone142320
Tallahatchie140134
Clarke138660
Calhoun135721
Smith120123
Yalobusha116534
Walthall111836
Noxubee110322
Greene109729
Montgomery109434
Carroll104221
Lawrence102417
Perry101631
Amite97725
Webster92224
Tunica86321
Claiborne86125
Jefferson Davis84125
Humphreys82924
Benton81523
Kemper77120
Quitman6888
Franklin66415
Choctaw60313
Wilkinson58325
Jefferson53819
Sharkey42717
Issaquena1596
Unassigned00

Alabama Coronavirus Cases

Cases: 422598

Reported Deaths: 6120
CountyCasesDeaths
Jefferson62039921
Mobile30225548
Madison27052186
Tuscaloosa20728267
Montgomery18978305
Shelby18504114
Baldwin16251182
Lee12465101
Morgan12233113
Etowah11735168
Calhoun11122200
Marshall10191107
Houston8598148
Cullman8023105
Limestone800274
Elmore7836101
DeKalb768397
Lauderdale754683
St. Clair7535120
Talladega6166108
Walker5897174
Jackson580341
Colbert532073
Blount530483
Autauga518455
Coffee441056
Dale396181
Franklin366248
Chilton336165
Russell330310
Covington327268
Escambia316842
Dallas303196
Chambers282769
Clarke281433
Tallapoosa2616107
Pike248729
Marion245650
Lawrence243647
Winston226635
Bibb215147
Geneva201435
Marengo199029
Pickens196531
Hale175842
Barbour172936
Butler169658
Fayette168226
Cherokee160330
Henry153621
Monroe145217
Randolph139835
Washington137626
Clay126145
Crenshaw118744
Lamar118019
Cleburne117423
Macon114735
Lowndes110335
Wilcox103121
Bullock99028
Perry97419
Conecuh94420
Sumter89026
Greene76023
Coosa60515
Choctaw51224
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