Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) Subpoenas Local Election Boards for Troves of Information in Apparent Fishing Expedition, Undermining 2018 Election Administration

 

 

RALEIGH, N.C.– Assistant U.S. Attorney Sebastian Kielmanovich recently issued subpoenas to Boards of Elections in all 44 counties in North Carolina’s Federal Eastern District on behalf of the federal Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE).  While the exact timing of the issuance of the subpoenas is not clear, they became public knowledge on September 4 after an email was sent to all members of the local boards and redacted subpoena language was posted to Twitter.

 

The subpoenas seek “all poll books, e-poll books, voting records, and/or voter authorization documents, executed official ballots that were submitted to, filed by, received by, and/or maintained by” the local board of elections “from August 30, 2013 to August 30, 2018.”  See: http://bit.ly/ICEAttachment

 

“The timing and scope of these subpoenas from ICE raise very troubling questions about the necessity and wisdom of federal interference with the pending statewide elections,” said Kareem Crayton, Interim Executive Director of the Southern Coalition for Social Justice.  “With so many well-established threats to our election process from abroad, it is odd to see federal resources directed to this particular concern.  We are closely monitoring the handling of these subpoenas and will keep all legal options on the table to ensure that communities in our state enjoy an election process free from meddling and intimidation.”

 

This is part of a pattern in North Carolina.  On August 17, 2018, the Department of Justice announced federal prosecutions of nineteen individuals in the Eastern District alleged to have voted while ineligible. Both the prosecutions and the new federal subpoenas come after a number of counties in the state decided not to prosecute ineligible voters who voted in the 2016 election.  Most of those instances included voters who were ineligible due to the fact that they were still technically serving an active felony sentence by being on probation or parole, and these voters did not realize they were still ineligible to vote.  Despite most counties declining to prosecute cases because of the lack of nefarious intent on the part of the voters, the State Board of Elections & Ethics enforcement is still referring cases of ineligible voters in the 2016 election to district attorneys for prosecution.

 

The Southern Coalition for Social Justice (SCSJ) represented five citizens in Alamance County who were charged with voting while ineligible due to an active felony sentence.  All of those cases resulted in misdemeanor pleas deals that included no admission of guilt and the dismissal of the voting-related charges.  SCSJ is concerned that the efforts in North Carolina to criminalize the ballot box and drum up evidence of “voter fraud” may be replicated on a much larger scale.

 

“This is clearly a fishing expedition that picks up where the Pence-Kobach Commission stopped.  This administration appears to be outsourcing the Commission’s discredited agenda to U.S. Attorneys, thus wasting our local election administrators’ valuable time and resources, many of which had been focused on ensuring our upcoming elections are free from foreign interference,” said Allison Riggs, Senior Voting Rights Attorney for the Southern Coalition for Social Justice. “It’s ironic, and clearly a political exercise, that an administration that has benefited from foreign election interference is now seeking to burden local election administrators in a way that will impede them in their efforts to safeguard against that same interference in the upcoming election.”

 

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Lee County NAACP’s Year of Racial Equity a Success

Fort Myers, F.L. — The School District of Lee County and the Lee County, Florida Branch of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) signed an agreement today to settle a civil rights complaint the NAACP filed in 2017.

“I am extremely pleased to have signed this agreement,” said Superintendent Dr. Greg Adkins. “The District is committed to every student reaching their potential.  We have worked hard to demonstrate our commitment to diversity, fair discipline and educational success.  It has been a truly positive experience to work with the NAACP on this agreement and we look forward to seeing our students succeed.”

The agreement calls on the District to continue six current practices:

  • Fund the Office of Diversity and Inclusion
  • Use restorative practices and alternatives to suspension
  • Provide ongoing training about structural racism, implicit bias and disparities
  • Review student disciplinary processes and gather community input
  • Allocate resources in a manner that allows schools that are in the most need to receive additional funding
  • Data already collected on referrals for discipline, referrals to law enforcement and expulsions will now be shared with other schools

The agreement calls on the District to add to new practices:

  • Convey quarterly community forums and public conversations
  • Provide training on the appropriate use and engagement of School Resource Officers

In return for continuing or adopting these practices the NAACP will drop the civil rights complaint filed with the US Department of Education in September 2017.  The complaint alleged black students were disciplined disproportionately to white students and disproportionately held back, dropping out or not graduating.

“Today’s agreement is not the end of the story, but rather the beginning of a new chapter,” said James Muwakkil, President of the Lee County NAACP. “We believe the steps outlined in this resolution will set a much needed foundation as we build towards racial equity in our schools. There is much work to be done. We are pleased now to have the school system as an ally in the effort to make sure students of color do not get left behind.”

Information about the community forums required under the agreement will be released as those quarterly events are scheduled.  Protocols and training for staff use of the SRO will also now be developed and implemented.  The practices already in place will continue to be used and updated as necessary.

To find a signed copy of the agreement, click here.

Statement Regarding Alamance County Voters Accused of Voting While Ineligible

GRAHAM, N.C. – Five voters represented by the Southern Coalition for Social Justice (SCSJ) charged with voting while ineligible accepted plea deals to lesser charges in Alamance County Superior Court today.  As part of the deal, prosecutors dropped all felony voting-related charges.

SCSJ clients Anthony Haith, Neko Rogers, Whitney Brown, Keith Sellars and Willie Vinson, Jr. pled to a lesser charge – misdemeanor obstruction of justice.  As part of the plea, the five individuals will each complete 24 hours of community service, be placed on unsupervised probation for 12 months, and offer no admission of guilt to any voting-related charges.

The Southern Coalition for Social Justice issued the following statement after the pleas deals were accepted by the court:

“Our clients had to make a hard decision.  They believe that the law they were initially charged under was enacted in 1901 with an intent to discriminate against people of color and intimidate communities from voting.  Such a law is unconstitutional.

“What happened in the courtroom today is nothing new, though.  Far too often, people plead to lesser charges, even when justice is on their side, in order to avoid the possibility of facing time in prison, being separated from their families, losing their jobs, and disrupting their lives and the lives of those around them.  Similar events happen every day in courtrooms across the country.

“Our communities deserve better.  No one should have to face the possibility of prison time for the act of casting a vote that they believed they were eligible to cast. These charges sought to punish people whose only intent was to participate in our democracy.  All of the charges should have been dismissed and the law that led to these prosecutions should be deemed unconstitutional.”

Mother of Niecey Fennell Speaks Out on Critical Safety Issues at Durham Detention Center


Durham, N.C.
— Attorneys for the family of Uniece “Niecey” Fennell, who was found deceased, hanging in the Durham County Detention Facility (DCDF) in March 2017, have again called upon the Durham County Board of Commissioners to address critical safety issues at the facility in the county’s 2018-19 fiscal budget. Adding to remarks made at a public comment period last week, attorneys at the Southern Coalition for Social Justice released a video of Julia Graves, Niecey’s mother, recounting her experience and the devastation her daughter’s death caused to her family.

Fennell was 16 years old when she was placed in DCDF with adult detainees. Durham County remains one of a small number of jurisdictions in America that continues to house children with adult detainees. It is also one of very few jurisdictions nationwide to have had a child die in its detention facility. The county’s practice of co-housing children and adults directly conflicts with standards adopted by Congress in 2003 with the passage of the Prison Rape Elimination Act (PREA). PREA requires total sight and sound separation of adults and children in detention facilities. According to a study by the Equal Justice Institute, children housed with adults are 36 times more likely to commit suicide in adult facilities than when housed in juvenile facilities.

On Monday, June 11, 2018, SCSJ attorneys Ian Mance and Whitley Carpenter spoke on behalf of Julia Graves, Niecey Fennell’s mother, at a public meeting of the Durham County Commissioners. Mance and Carpenter highlighted the County’s slow response to addressing known hanging hazards in the jail, as well as its continued failure to meet critical federal standards designed to ensure the safety of child detainees. In the last 20 years, 22 people have died in the Durham County Detention Facility, the majority of them a result of suicide.

SCSJ continues to advocate that children charged as adults in Durham County need to have their own physical space where they are not subject to threats and bullying from adult detainees.

To view the County Board of Commissioners video featuring the statements made by SCSJ (28:18 to 33:20), a local teacher (33:45 to 33:25), and a student from Niecey’s high school (35:40 to 37:15), click the following link: http://durhamcounty.granicus.com/MediaPlayer.php?view_id=3&clip_id=1070

For the full written statement made by SCSJ at the meeting, click the following link: https://www.southerncoalition.org/statement-june-11-durham-county-board-commissioners-meeting/

Scissors cutting red tape over a drivers license with city of Durham in background

Press Release: Civil Rights Groups Sue North Carolina DMV For Revoking Driver’s Licenses of People Who Cannot Pay Traffic Tickets

Taking licenses from people who cannot pay violates the U.S. Constitution, lawsuit says

RALEIGH, N.C. –The North Carolina Division of Motor Vehicles (DMV) has revoked the licenses of hundreds of thousands of people simply because they cannot afford to pay traffic fines and court costs. The Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC), the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), the ACLU of North Carolina and the Southern Coalition for Social Justice are suing to end the practice, which funnels low-income people further into poverty, in violation of their  due process and equal protection rights under the 14th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution.

The North Carolinians impacted by this punitive scheme are stripped of their ability to support themselves and their families, as drivers’ licenses are crucial to securing and maintaining employment, driving children to school, and obtaining basic needs. The federal lawsuit challenges the DMV’s automatic revocation of driver’s licenses without providing proper notice and hearings to ensure that people who cannot afford fines and costs will not lose their license.

“No one should have to live with the burden of their license being revoked, and all the expenses that come with that, simply because they don’t have any money,” Plaintiff Seti Johnson said. “I’d previously fallen behind on my rent and sacrificed the needs of my children just to keep my license. I cannot afford to do that again. This has to stop.”

The DMV’s unlawful license revocation stems from a North Carolina statute that requires the automatic revocation of licenses for nonpayment of a traffic ticket 40 days after a court judgment.  But the law does not require a hearing before revocation to ensure that a person punished under the statute is actually able to pay. U.S. Supreme Court precedent makes it clear that inability to pay must be considered before punishing a person for nonpayment of a court fine.

“I just want a fair chance to take care of my family,” Plaintiff Sharee Smoot added.  “I can’t afford to pay the tickets right now, but that shouldn’t prevent me from having a driver’s license.”

Sam Brooke, deputy legal director for the SPLC, said: “The North Carolina Division of Motor Vehicles unconstitutionally punishes people by taking away their driver’s licenses simply because they cannot afford to pay their traffic tickets, without due process or any regard for their ability to pay. It’s predatory and puts thousands of individuals with low incomes at risk. A license permits physical mobility and enables economic transcendence. Taking licenses away from those most in need is not just illegal, it is also counterproductive and heartless. We are suing to end this unjust practice.”

More than 15 percent of North Carolina residents live in poverty. North Carolina’s practice of revoking licenses for nonpayment without ensuring ability to pay disproportionately harms people of color due to longstanding racial and ethnic gaps in poverty and wealth.

“North Carolina’s unjust traffic fine collection scheme has created a two-tiered system of justice where people charged with the same traffic offense are punished differently based on how much money they have,” said Cristina Becker, criminal justice debt fellow for the ACLU of North Carolina. “Those who can afford to pay their traffic tickets get to keep their license, while those who cannot have their license revoked, making it harder to find and keep a job and take care of their families. North Carolina is denying a basic necessity – having a driver’s license – to hundreds of thousands of residents simply because of their economic standing, trapping countless people in a cycle of poverty. This unfair and unconstitutional system must end.”

Laura Holland, criminal justice attorney with the Southern Coalition for Social Justice, said: “The consequences of losing a driver’s license can be devastating for low-income families in North Carolina. People facing fines for a traffic offense, with low or no income, are often forced to choose between paying fines to prevent their licenses from being revoked or using that money for food, housing and health care. When a person whose license is revoked cannot afford to pay, they are faced with a choice between losing their jobs because they no longer have a license to drive to work, or driving with a revoked license and risking further penalties.”

When the DMV receives notice that a person has not paid a traffic fine or cost, it enters a license revocation order that becomes effective 60 days after mailing or personal delivery to the motorist. The notice does not explain that, if a motorist cannot pay, they can petition for a hearing to keep their license. The notice indicates that the only way to restore a revoked license is to pay all outstanding traffic fines and court costs in full.

Johnson, a Black father of three, had to choose between paying traffic fines and supporting his children. After a routine traffic stop last summer in Cabarrus County, he was surprised to learn that his license had been revoked for unpaid traffic tickets. He was forced to use his rent money to pay off the more than $700 he owed to reinstate his license.

Johnson’s license was reinstated, but not before he received a separate traffic ticket for driving with a revoked license. The charge was later reduced, and the court ordered him to pay a $100 fine and $208 in court costs. He was able to pay $100, but couldn’t pay more, and was assessed an additional $20 fee because he couldn’t pay in full that day. Without a job, he struggled to pay the remaining amount. The fees were due on May 22, and Johnson fears that he will lose his license again.

Smoot is a single Black mother struggling to support her daughter on a low income. She lost her driver’s license in 2016 when she could not afford to pay a traffic fine. Every day, she faces an impossible choice between driving illegally to work and losing her job.

The plaintiffs seek a court order declaring that North Carolina’s law and the DMV’s practice of revoking driver’s licenses are unconstitutional. The plaintiffs also seek an injunction to prevent the DMV from revoking licenses for nonpayment without first providing hearings to determine whether motorists willfully did not pay. They also seek to prevent the DMV from revoking licenses without sufficient notice of options other than payment, to prevent those who cannot afford to pay from having their licenses revoked. The suit also requests an injunction that would require the DMV to restore any licenses that were revoked solely for nonpayment.

To read the official filing, click on the following link: https://www.southerncoalition.org/wp-content/uploads/2018/05/nc_drivers_license_complaint.pdf

The State of Discipline in NC Schools

Highlights from The 2018 State of Discipline Report

The data analysis from the Youth Justice Project found that:

  • Although out-of-school suspension is down, students are still too often removed from class for disciplinary reasons.
  • Tens of thousands of young children were suspended last school year.
  • Black students were more likely to be suspended than white students.
  • There is not enough information about the impact of School Resource Officers.

While some individual schools and districts are taking steps to address the issues outlined in the report, the Youth Justice Project calls for immediate and bold action at the state level. The report outlines several policy recommendations that include:

  • banning out-of-school suspensions for early grades,
  • mandating data collection and reporting for school-based interactions with police, and;
  • prioritizing racially equitable discipline policies.

The full report can be found at southerncoalition.org/sodreport2018.

Interactive report below:

Statement from the Southern Coalition for Social Justice Regarding the Dismissal of Charges for the Protesters Charged with Toppling Confederate Monument in Durham

On February 20, 2018, Durham District Attorney Roger Echols announced that he was dismissing the charges against protesters charged with toppling the Confederate monument outside of the old Durham County Courthouse in August 2017.  The decision came the day after the first three protesters to stand trial had their cases dismissed or were acquitted.
Whitley Carpenter, part of the Criminal Justice litigation team for the Southern Coalition for Social Justice, which helped represent defendants in the case, issued the following statement after the charges were dropped:
“The statue that was torn down was a symbol of white supremacy that has no place in front of the public buildings that represent our community.  We applaud the District Attorney for finally dropping the charges in this case.  It’s time for us to recognize that these symbols of hate create division within our communities.  We need to make monuments to the ill-conceived project of white supremacy a thing of the past.”
Ian Mance, Laura Holland, Angaza Laughinghouse, and Ivy Johnson are also attorneys on Southern Coalition for Social Justice’s criminal justice litigation team that represented defendants in this case.
Other attorneys on the case include Scott Holmes, Amelia O’Rourke-Owens, and Thomas Cadwallader.

Dr. Kareem Crayton Hired as Interim Director for the Southern Coalition for Social Justice

DURHAM, N.C. – The Board of Directors for the Southern Coalition for Social Justice (SCSJ) has hired Kareem Crayton, J.D., Ph.D. to serve as the interim executive director as the organization conducts a search for a full-time director.  Anita Earls, the organization’s current executive director and founder, is stepping down from her position at the end of the year to run for a seat on the Supreme Court of North Carolina.

 

Dr. Crayton’s employment with the civil rights organization will start on January 1, 2018.

 

“We are incredibly fortunate to have Dr. Kareem Crayton be a part of this transition,” said Farad Ali, Chair of SCSJ’s Board of Directors.  “In the 10 years since our founding, the Southern Coalition for Social Justice has become one of the premier civil rights organizations in our country.  We are committed to moving forward, and Dr. Crayton is the right person to help us do just that.”

 

Dr. Crayton is an internationally respected scholar, expert, and consultant whose work centers on the intersection of law, politics, and race. He is the only academic in the United States in law and political science whose primary work explores the relationship between race and politics in representative institutions. A native of Montgomery, Alabama, Crayton is a magna cum laude graduate of Harvard College and holds a Ph.D. in Political Science as well as a law degree from Stanford University.  Aside from managing a consulting firm, Dr. Crayton has most recently served on the faculty of Vanderbilt University Law School.

 

“The  Southern Coalition for Social Justice is vital to defending the civil rights of marginalized communities in the South,” said Dr. Kareem Crayton.  “Having worked with this organization over the years as a partner, I know the key role SCSJ plays in making our governing institutions more accountable and responsive.  I am therefore excited to lead the board, staff, and our community partners through this phase and to make sure we continue this important work well into the future.”

 

Anita Earls, SCSJ’s current director, praised the board’s decision. “Kareem brings great insight to our organization. His deep knowledge of issues related to race, politics, and the South will be an incredible asset to the coalition,” said Earls.  “I am comforted to know that Dr. Crayton will be taking charge of the organization I founded and love.”

 

“There is no way that SCSJ would have accomplished everything we have without the leadership of Anita Earls.  We are thankful for and will certainly miss her leadership,” said Farad Ali.   “Our work moves forward, though.  We will continue to challenge unconstitutional racial and partisan gerrymandering that disenfranchises people and communities of color.  We will persist in our advocacy for reforming the criminal justice system, ending the school-to-prison pipeline, and creating fairer and safer schools for our youth.

 

N.C. Attorneys Challenge Court Fines and Fees as Unconstitutional

Advocacy groups encourage similar challenges across North Carolina

RALEIGH, N.C. – North Carolina’s practice of charging criminal defendants with an array of court fines and fees unjustly burdens low-income people and violates the state constitution, according to a motion filed today in Wake County Superior Court. The motion challenging the constitutionality of court costs is the product of a working collaboration between several nonprofit organizations including the ACLU of North Carolina and the Southern Coalition for Social Justice.

The state’s criminal justice system charges defendants with mandatory fines and fees for costs related to court, jail, community service, and more. These fees start at $180 but can reach into the tens of thousands and are used to fund various state agencies, even though the state constitution requires that most should fund the public school system.

Attorney Scott Holmes filed the motion in the case of Carol Anderson and Dale Herman, demonstrators arrested at the N.C. Legislative Building protesting House Bill 2. The motion challenges the constitutionality of court costs on the grounds that some are being used to fund the court system, not the local school system as required by the constitution. Article IX, Section 7 of the state constitution states:

“…all penalties and forfeitures and of all fines collected in the several counties for any breach of the penal laws of the State, shall belong to and remain in the several counties, and shall be faithfully appropriated and used exclusively for maintaining free public schools.”

The coalition has made the motion available as a template for other attorneys to use to challenge the constitutionality of court costs throughout the state.

The motion filed today is available for viewing and download at http://bit.ly/FinesAndFees

Attorneys interested in filing similar motions can find a template document at http://bit.ly/FinesAndFeesTemplate.

After the motion was filed in Wake County Superior Court, statements were issued by the following coalition partners:

Cristina Becker, Criminal Justice Debt Fellow at the ACLU of North Carolina:

“For far too long the legislature has gotten away with circumventing the state constitution to fund an array of state agencies on the backs of the poor. North Carolina’s excessive court costs have created modern-day debtors’ prisons that keep people in jail simply for being poor and have a devastating impact on communities across the state. We are offering this motion as a template for other attorneys throughout the state and encourage them to use it to challenge the unconstitutionality of court fines and fees in every jurisdiction.”

David Hall, criminal justice attorney at the Southern Coalition for Social Justice:

“We must do everything we can to end the unconstitutional practice of funding our court system on the backs of the poor and indigent people of the state.  The burdens of court fines and fees disproportionately affect people of color, and it’s time to end this practice.”

Scott Holmes, attorney for Anderson and Herman:

“This is an important step in reversing the flow of resources in the school to prison pipeline.  Our Constitution requires that the fees collected in criminal cases shall fund the education of our children in public schools, not fund our courts.”

Lee County NAACP Meets with School Superintendent

FORT MYERS, FL. – Representatives from the Lee County NAACP and the Southern Coalition for Social Justice (SCSJ) met with Lee County School Superintendent Dr. Greg Adkins on December 6 to discuss racial equity concerns.  

The NAACP filed a complaint against the school system with the U.S. Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights in September pointing out that students of color make up the fast-growing majority of the school district and are:

  • more likely than white students to be suspended or expelled,
  • more likely to be referred to law enforcement for misbehavior in school,
  • more likely to be removed from the classroom and placed in alternative education programs,
  • more likely to be designated as having a disability,
  • more likely to be retained or drop out,
  • less likely to be enrolled in gifted programs, and
  • less likely to graduate.

At the meeting, community members from the NAACP and SCSJ offered a set of recommendations that Dr. Adkins can implement to address the racially discriminatory outcomes present in the school system.

SCSJ’s Ricky Watson, co-director of the Youth Justice Project, spoke with WINK News after the meeting to explain the complaint and why the Lee County School system must take action:

The full complaint filed by the Lee County NAACP with the U.S. Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights can be found at http://bit.ly/CivilRightsComplaint.