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Case Name Morrow v. City of Tenaha PN-TX-0002
Docket / Court 2-08-cv-288-TJW ( E.D. Tex. )
State/Territory Texas
Case Type(s) Policing
Attorney Organization ACLU Chapters (any)
ACLU National (all projects)
Legal Services/Legal Aid
Case Summary
On July 24, 2008, plaintiffs filed a lawsuit in the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Texas, against the City of Tenaha. The plaintiffs are all individuals who were traveling on public roads in or near Tenaha, Texas, when, they say, they were illegally stopped and their property ... read more >
On July 24, 2008, plaintiffs filed a lawsuit in the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Texas, against the City of Tenaha. The plaintiffs are all individuals who were traveling on public roads in or near Tenaha, Texas, when, they say, they were illegally stopped and their property seized. They sued under the Fourth Amendment (unreasonable searches and seizures) and Fourteenth Amendments (equal protection), made actionable under 42 U.S.C. § 1983. The plaintiffs were represented by lawyers from Legal Aid, the American Civil Liberties Union (Racial Justice Program, Criminal Law Reform Project, Texas chapter, and national), and from private practice. They asked the court for declaratory and injunctive relief as well as monetary relief including compensatory and punitive damages as well as legal costs.

The plaintiffs claimed that law enforcement officials in and around the City of Tenaha have developed an illegal practice of targeting, stopping, detaining, searching, and often seizing property from people who appear to be non-white or who are traveling with non-white passengers. The named plaintiffs claimed that they have been victims of such stops.

The plaintiffs sought a class certification of similarly situated persons consisting of: (1) people who are, or appeared to be, members of racial or ethnic minority groups and those in their company, and (2) were or will be traveling in, through, or near Tenaha since July 27, 2006, and (3) were, or are subject to being stopped and detained and/or arrested by one or more of the defendants without an articulable suspicion of criminal activity, to find valuable property or money.

The individual plaintiffs were allegedly stopped without warrants or legal justification and were then either detained or threatened with detention, and were had property seized in amounts varying from $3,969 to $50,000. Plaintiffs were allegedly falsely prosecuted for crimes such as money laundering, and one couple was allegedly told that their children would be put in foster care if they did not sign papers authorizing the seizure.

On August 29, 2011, the Court (Judge T. John Ward) granted in part the plaintiff's motion for class certification. Morrow v. Washington, 277 F.R.D. 172 (E.D. Tex. 2011). The Court granted the class certification for Fourteenth Amendment Equal Protection claims for injunctive and declaratory relief, but did not certify the class for Fourth Amendment search and seizure claims or for monetary relief. In the opinion, the Court cites to recordings from cameras in the police vehicles at the time of the stops. The Court drew an adverse inference from the failure of Tenaha's law enforcement agencies to collect and report racial profiling evidence, as required by Texas law. The Court also drew an adverse inference from two defendants' invocation of their Fifth Amendment right against self-incrimination, during deposition. The Court modified the class definition, because it found that there was "articulable suspicion" for the stops (albeit not reasonable suspicion). The modified definition of the class consists of (1) people who are, or appear to be, members of racial or ethnic minority groups and those in their company, and (2) were, or will be, traveling in, through, or near Tenaha at any time after November 1, 2006, and (3) were, or are, subject to being stopped by one or more defendant for an alleged traffic violation. The defendants twice sought a discretionary interlocutory appeal of the class certification, but were twice denied.

On August 6, 2012, plaintiffs and defendants filed a joint motion for preliminary approval of a consent decree. The Consent Decree is extensive, with key terms including the following:

  • All traffic stops shall be recorded in full by both video and audio recordings.
  • Defendants shall maintain written documentation with details about the traffic stop, detention, canine sniff, search, seizure, and/or forfeiture.
  • Defendants will not use canines for routine traffic stops.
  • Written notice shall be provided to a person before a canine sniff, before a consent search, and before the seizure of property. Before conducting a consent search, an officer must obtain written and oral video and audio recorded consent for the search.
  • Defendants will track all asset forfeiture incident to traffic stops, and all such revenue will all be donated to non-profit organizations, used for audio and video equipment, or used for the annual training required by this decree.
  • Internal review procedures will be instituted every quarter, and an impartial monitor will address compliance.

Defendants also agreed to pay litigation costs (attorneys' fees and notice to the class).

On February 19, 2013, the Court (Judge Gilstrap) granted preliminary approval of the consent decree. The Fairness Hearing will be held on April 22, 2013.

Emily Goldman - 03/02/2013


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Issues and Causes of Action
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Issues
Constitutional Clause
Equal Protection
Unreasonable search and seizure
Content of Injunction
Monitor/Master
Monitoring
Recordkeeping
Defendant-type
Jurisdiction-wide
Law-enforcement
Discrimination-basis
National origin discrimination
Race discrimination
General
Disparate Treatment
False arrest
Over/Unlawful Detention
Pattern or Practice
Personal injury
Racial profiling
Search policies
Transportation
Plaintiff Type
Private Plaintiff
Race
Black
Race, unspecified
Causes of Action Declaratory Judgment Act, 28 U.S.C. § 2201
42 U.S.C. § 1983
Defendant(s) City of Tenaha
Shelby County
Plaintiff Description The plaintiffs were certified as a class consisting of: (1) people who are, or appear to be, members of racial or ethnic minority groups and those in their company, and (2) were, or will be, traveling in, through, or near Tenaha at any time after November 1, 2006, and (3) were, or are, subject to being stopped by one or more defendant for an alleged traffic violation.
Indexed Lawyer Organizations ACLU Chapters (any)
ACLU National (all projects)
Legal Services/Legal Aid
Class action status sought Yes
Class action status granted Yes
Prevailing Party Plaintiff
Public Int. Lawyer Yes
Nature of Relief Injunction / Injunctive-like Settlement

Source of Relief Settlement
Form of Settlement Court Approved Settlement or Consent Decree
Order Duration not on record
Case Closing Year n/a
Case Ongoing Yes
Additional Resources
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Case Studies Federal Enforcement of Police Reform
By: Stephen Rushin (University of Illinois College of Law, University of California, Berkeley - Jurisprudence and Social Policy Program )
Citation: 82 Fordham Law Review 3189 (2014)
[ Detail ] [ External Link ]

  Panopticism for Police: Structural Reform Bargaining and Police Regulation by Data-Driven Surveillance
By: Mary D. Fan (University of Washington)
Citation: Forthcoming, 87 Washington L. Rev. __ (2012).
[ Detail ] [ External Link ]

  What Happens When Police Are Forced to Reform?
Written: Nov. 13, 2015
By: Kimbriell Kelly, Sarah Childress and Steven Rich (Frontline/Post)
Citation: Washington Post (Nov. 13, 2015)
[ Detail ] [ External Link ]

Docket(s)
2-08-cv-288-TJW (E.D. Tex.) 05/01/2013
PN-TX-0002-9000.pdf | Detail
PACER [Public Access to Court Electronic Records]
General Documents
Plaintiff's Original Complaint 07/24/2008
PN-TX-0002-0006.pdf | Detail
Document Source: PACER [Public Access to Court Electronic Records]
Third Amended Complaint 02/17/2010
PN-TX-0002-0002.pdf | Detail
Document Source:
Memorandum Order and Opinion (certifying class) 08/29/2011 (277 F.R.D. 172) (E.D. Tex.)
PN-TX-0002-0003.pdf | WESTLAW| LEXIS | Detail
Document Source:
Press Release 08/03/2012
PN-TX-0002-0001.pdf | Detail
Document Source:
Joint Motion for Preliminary Approval of the Class Action Consent Decree, Approval of Notice, and Fairness Hearing 08/06/2012
PN-TX-0002-0004.pdf | Detail
Document Source: PACER [Public Access to Court Electronic Records]
Order Granting Preliminary Approval of the Consent Decree 02/19/2013 (E.D. Tex.)
PN-TX-0002-0005.pdf | Detail
Document Source: PACER [Public Access to Court Electronic Records]
Judges Gilstrap, James Rodney (E.D. Tex.)
PN-TX-0002-0005 | PN-TX-0002-9000
Ward, T. John (E.D. Tex.)
PN-TX-0002-0003 | PN-TX-0002-9000
Monitors/Masters None on record
Plaintiff's Lawyers Edwards, Ezekiel (New York)
PN-TX-0002-9000
Garrigan, Timothy Borne (Texas)
PN-TX-0002-0002 | PN-TX-0002-0004 | PN-TX-0002-0006 | PN-TX-0002-9000
Guillory, David Joseph (Texas)
PN-TX-0002-0002 | PN-TX-0002-0004 | PN-TX-0002-0006 | PN-TX-0002-9000
Gupta, Vanita (New York)
PN-TX-0002-9000
Hinger, Sarah (New York)
PN-TX-0002-0004 | PN-TX-0002-9000
Mukherjee, Elora (New York)
PN-TX-0002-0004 | PN-TX-0002-9000
Parker, Dennis D. (New York)
PN-TX-0002-9000
Robertson, Rebecca Lynn (Texas)
PN-TX-0002-9000
Stephens, Stephanie Kay (Texas)
PN-TX-0002-0004 | PN-TX-0002-9000
Defendant's Lawyers Adams, Richard Andrew (Texas)
PN-TX-0002-9000
Alderman, Galen Robert (Texas)
PN-TX-0002-0004 | PN-TX-0002-9000
Davis, Robert Scott (Texas)
PN-TX-0002-0004 | PN-TX-0002-9000
Henson, Walter Thomas (Texas)
PN-TX-0002-0004 | PN-TX-0002-9000
McGaha, Corey Darnell (Texas)
PN-TX-0002-9000
Miller, Reid D. (Texas)
PN-TX-0002-9000
Pearlman, Leisa Beaty (Texas)
PN-TX-0002-9000
Rook, Chad Carlton (Texas)
PN-TX-0002-0004 | PN-TX-0002-9000
Other Lawyers Watkins, Brent Lee (Texas)
PN-TX-0002-0004 | PN-TX-0002-9000

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