The Hancock County Sheriff’s Office will no longer profile motorists on the basis of race or extend traffic stops to determine legal status as part of a settlement agreement with two civil rights groups.

The agreement is the culmination of a lawsuit filed in November by the Southern Poverty Law Center and the Mississippi Center for Justice, the organizations announced Wednesday.

“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,” said Gillian Gillers, SPLC senior staff attorney, in a statement. “We’re very glad Hancock County agreed to get out of the business of immigration enforcement.”

Under the agreement, the sheriff’s office will adopt several new policies. Those policies state that race, ethnicity and national origin will not play a role in an officer’s decision to stop, question or arrest someone; that officers may not stop or detain individuals based on suspicion that they are not lawfully present in the United States, or prolong a traffic stop to determine immigration status or to transfer an individual to immigration authorities.

The agreement also states that the sheriff’s office will collect and make public traffic stop data.

The initial lawsuit was filed on behalf of Stephanie and Marcos Martinez and their three children, alleging that in 2017, the family was illegally stopped and detained for four hours due to how a sheriff’s deputy perceived their race and ethnicity. The suit claimed the deputy asked the family if they were U.S. citizens and then confiscated their U.S. passports, permanent residency cards and other immigration documents.

In the settlement agreement, defendants in the suit denied liability and denied the allegations, according to the SPLC.

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Michelle Liu

Michelle Liu

Michelle Liu was a 2018 corps member for Report for America, a national service program that places talented journalists in local newsrooms. She covered criminal justice issues across the state from June 2018 until May 2020. Prior to joining the Mississippi Today team, her work appeared in the New Haven Independent.