Miss. cops ask judge to toss discrimination suit

Published 1:17 pm Tuesday, June 2, 2009

The city of Southaven and two police officers have asked a federal judge to dismiss a racial discrimination lawsuit accusing the lawmen of assaulting a group of minority students during an incident on an alternative school bus last year.

The American Civil Liberties Union filed the lawsuit in April, alleging two Southaven officers — Sgt. Tomas Aguilar and Officer Lee Holiday — assaulted six black students, ranging in age from 14 to 17, following a verbal altercation among students on the bus. The lawsuit claimed the students were singled out by the officers and two DeSoto County Public Schools bus drivers while a white female student also involved in the dispute was let go.

The suit also named the school district and bus drivers Mary Robbins and Belinda Heyman as defendants. The lawsuit seeks unspecified damages.

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In documents filed this past week in U.S. District Court in Oxford, the officers and city contend that they didn’t exceed their authority, and that the students were not legally harmed.

“Moreover, there is no evidence in this case of a policy or custom that deprives a certain class of any right afforded by the United States Constitution,” according to the motion to dismiss made public Friday.

Attorney Daniel Griffith of Cleveland, who represents the city and officers, declined to comment on the case.

Wendell Trapp of Corinth, who represents the school district and the two bus drivers, said his clients also filed a response to the lawsuit.

Trapp said “they did nothing whatsoever wrong. There was a problem on the bus. The bus drivers notified the officers as they would appropriately do.”

According to the complaint, six black students were arrested after an argument on a bus taking the students home from DeSoto County’s alternative school on Aug. 12.

The ACLU said it has a copy of a school bus surveillance video showing the incident, but hasn’t released it to the public. In the videotape that was viewed by a reporter, an officer grabs a 14-year-old girl by the neck, shoves her against a bus window and tells her he didn’t like the way she talked to him. The ACLU identified the officer as Aguilar.

Aguilar also is accused in the lawsuit of tackling a 17-year-old boy, pressing a Taser against his neck and threatening to use it.

The ACLU said the students were arrested on disorderly conduct and disturbing the peace charges. The cases were sealed because they were handled in youth court, according to the ACLU.

U.S. Magistrate S. Allan Alexander has scheduled July 8 conference with attorneys to discuss the case.