Crime

Update: Moss Point lawsuit changes jail bond requirements

A lawsuit settled in federal court means Moss Point will no longer jail most people after a misdemeanor arrest, whether they can afford bond or not.

As part of the settlement, Chief U.S. District Judge Louis Guirola Jr. signed an order Friday that says using a "secured bail schedule" to deny bond for people who can't afford it violates the equal protection clause of the 14th Amendment and "constitutes bad public policy."

The lawsuit challenged the legality of using a system of pre-set bonds for misdemeanor charges to deny bail for poor people while those who could afford bond were released.

Guirola issued an injunction requiring the city to release most misdemeanor defendants on their own recognizance. After arrest, they must sign an agreement to appear in court and follow conditions of pre-trial release.

The order also forbids the city from jailing people for non-payment of fines, court costs, fees and bond revocations unless legal procedures have been followed.

Mayor Billy Broomfield could not be reached for comment.

The class-action lawsuit was filed June 12 for people like Chevon Thompson.

Moss Point police had arrested the 33-year-old mother of three on June 11 on charges of shoplifting, disorderly conduct and resisting arrest.

Thompson was told she couldn't bail out of jail unless she paid a $3,200 bond, and she couldn't see a judge until Moss Point Municipal Court convened five days later. The court is in session once a week.

Thompson was living with her 77-year-old mother and had no income other than occasional odd jobs for neighbors, the lawsuit said.

The lawsuit was filed by Equal Justice Under Law, a nonprofit civil rights group in Washington, D.C., and the Roderick and Solange MacArthur Justice Center at the University of Mississippi School of Law.

The city court was using "secured money bail" to wrongfully hold defendants at the city's expense, like many other Mississippi cities are doing, said Alex Karakatsanis, co-founder of Equal Justice.

"The Constitution forbids it, and cities across the country are finally beginning to end the scourge of money bail," Karakatsanis said.

Attorneys said Moss Point has wrongfully jailed hundreds of indigent people.

Guirola's judgment said city officials "acted quickly and responsibly ... without admitting any fault or liability, to put in place a system of post-arrest release" that complies with the Constitution and terms of the agreement.

City officials not only ended a harmful policy, Cliff Johnson, director of the MacArthur Justice Center, said in a written statement. "They saved Moss Point taxpayers hundreds of thousands of dollars in attorneys' fees and allowed the city to avoid class-action damages that, we believe, would have amounted to several million dollars."

Johnson said similar lawsuits against other cities is likely.

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