DOJ: Lawsuit should proceed over town’s police fines

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The Justice Department is urging a federal judge to let a class-action lawsuit go forward against an Alabama town accused of policing for profit with excessive fines and aggressive enforcement of local laws.

The U.S. attorney’s office this week filed a statement of interest in the civil lawsuit against Brookside. The lawsuit was filed by four people who paid hundreds of dollars in fines and said they were humiliated by what they described as a scheme to boost town revenue.

Brookside is seeking to dismiss the lawsuit. The Justice Department argued that it should proceed against the police department and local officials.

“Courts, prosecutors, and police should be driven by justice—not revenue,” an assistant U.S. attorney wrote in the court filing.

The Justice Department said the United States has an interest in enforcing federal laws regarding the imposition and enforcement of unlawful fines and fees. “The United States also has an interest in addressing practices that punish people for their poverty, in violation of their constitutional rights.”

Al.com reported in January that Brookside, which has a population of 1,253, saw revenue from fines and forfeitures jump 640 percent between 2018 and 2020 and grew to make up half the city’s total income.

Lawyers for the town, in seeking to dismiss the case, wrote in a court filing that “very little is necessary to show that the fines and fees imposed by the Town of Brookside and/or the Brookside Municipal Court are rationally related to a governmental interest.”

Institute for Justice, a group representing the plaintiffs in the case, welcomed the Justice Department’s action.

“The Justice Department’s statement recognizes that Brookside’s abusive system of policing for profit violates the Constitution and that the town should be held accountable,” Jaba Tsitsuashvili, a lawyer with the group, said in a statement.