Police to limit Mississippi capital roadblocks after lawsuit

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 reached 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 calls for a ban on 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.

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 — who 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.”

Mississippi Center for Justice president and CEO Vangela M. Wade said when the lawsuit was filed that she understood the police chief and people in Jackson want to curb crime. But she said the lack of a driver’s license, auto registration or liability insurance “hasn’t been shown to be indicative of criminal behavior or intent.”

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 offence, 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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