Court denies appeal for Tenaha 'illegal highway stops' lawsuit

TENAHA, TX (KTRE) – The Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals has cleared the way for progress in a civil lawsuit against several Shelby County officials in the so-called "Highway Robbery Scheme" of motorists as they passed through Tenaha.

The Fifth Circuit denied the defendants' request to appeal the class certification lawsuit.

The lawsuit claims minorities were targeted in illegal search and seizure stops in Tenaha.  Defendants include former Shelby County District Attorney Lynda K Russell, a former investigator Danny Green, the City of Tenaha, Deputy City Marshal Barry Washington, Tenaha Mayor George Bowers, and Constable Randy Whatley.

"What the decision means and what's important is that now there will be progress. The class action can go forward. They owe us a lot of discovery. They haven't been willing to provide and now that will happen," said Tim Garrigan, the attorney for the plaintiffs.

Last summer during arguments to pursue the class action, a former constable testified as many as 1,000 people were stopped for traffic violations to look for narcotics trafficking, most were minorities.  The only trouble is, according to testimony, "The police would say that their dog alerted on drugs and that they could smell Marijuana, but they never found it."  Nevertheless, when money was found it was often kept and in exchange the driver would go free.

Last August, a federal judge certified the class action.  In reviewing the 58 page decision, Garrigan said the circumstances are what stood out.  "And it pretty strongly suggested that their interest was taking the money."

Federal Judge Rodney Gilstrap is now the presiding judge following the retirement of Judge T.J. Ward.  No court date has been set.

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