Asian Americans sue Siskiyou County and its sheriff for bias

Four Asian American residents have filed a class action lawsuit against Siskiyou County and its sheriff, alleging widespread racism in traffic stops, access to water and enforcement of cannabis-related property liens.

In the lawsuit, filed in federal court in Sacramento on Wednesday, plaintiffs accuse Sheriff Jeremiah LaRue and other county officials of “an extensive campaign to harass and intimidate Hmong and other Asian Americans.”

They also allege that they were wrongfully accused of criminal activity involving the cultivation of cannabis and that authorities made it “difficult or impossible for Asian Americans to live and travel peacefully in Siskiyou County.”

Attorneys for the plaintiffs — from the ACLU Foundation of Northern California, Asian Americans Advancing Justice-Asian Law Caucus, and Covington & Burling LLP — analyzed traffic stop data in Siskiyou County and found striking racial disparities.

More than 28% of drivers stopped by Siskiyou County sheriff’s deputies in 2021 were Asian Americans, while Asians make up about 2% of the county’s adult population, the attorneys found.

Asian American drivers were 25 times more likely than white drivers to be searched during traffic stops, their analysis found.

In a drought-stricken rural area, an ordinance prohibiting the transport of more than 100 gallons of water without a permit was only enforced on roads surrounding Asian American neighborhoods, the lawsuit said.

The lawsuit also alleges that county officials targeted Asian American residents for real estate liens related to unpaid fines for growing cannabis. More than 80% of the liens were issued against Asian American owners, according to the lawsuit.

A spokesperson for the Siskiyou County Sheriff’s Office declined to comment on the lawsuit, citing a lack of resources due to the McKinney Fire, which charred more than 50,000 acres and killed at least four people.

The lawsuit is the latest escalation in a long-running dispute between law enforcement and Asian American residents in a small mountainous corner of northern California.

Last year, sheriff’s deputies shot and killed a Hmong man who was trying to flee the lava fire.

Deputies alleged that the man, Soobleej Kaub Hawj, pointed a gun at them. The killing sparked protests and drew attention to allegedly uneven enforcement of the water transport ordinance.

In recent years, Hmong Americans and other Asian Americans, including those of Cambodian, Chinese, and Laotian descent, have moved into Siskiyou County, and many have settled in and around Shasta Subdivision. View.

Mai Nou Vang, a plaintiff in the lawsuit, is of Hmong descent and owns property in the housing estate. She alleges that she was wrongfully stopped and searched by sheriff’s officers while driving in the area and is likely to be targeted again because of her race.

A lien issued by the Siskiyou County Board of Supervisors diminished the value of her land, hurt her ability to obtain financing and put her at risk of foreclosure, according to the lawsuit.

“It had to come to this – you need to take legal action to fight for fair treatment,” said Mary Chang, a Bay Area resident of Hmong Chinese descent who has been following the unrest on social media. and participated in demonstrations.

According to the lawsuit, county supervisors and sheriff’s officials treat Asian Americans “as unwelcome to their more established white neighbors.”

“Like some of their most vocal constituents, they view Asian Americans as a monolithic group with each person part of a violent drug cartel and blame the county’s widespread cannabis culture on Americans of Asian descent in explicitly racialized terms” – although the herb has been grown in the region for decades, according to the lawsuit.

LaRue, the sheriff, said of the Asian Americans in the county, according to the lawsuit, “I just wish they would contribute better… It’s like a third world country there and it can’t. go. Forget cannabis, it’s just a matter of quality of life and how people live there.

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