Four Asian American residents have filed a class-action lawsuit against Siskiyou County, California, 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, the plaintiffs accuse Sheriff Jeremiah LaRue and other county officials of "a sweeping campaign to harass and intimidate Hmong and other Asian Americans."
They also allege that they have been wrongly blamed for criminal activity involving cannabis cultivation and that officials have made it "difficult or impossible for Asian Americans to live and travel peacefully in Siskiyou County."
The plaintiffs' attorneys — 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 American, when 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, according to their analysis.
In a drought-stricken rural area, an ordinance barring the transportation of more than 100 gallons of water without a permit was applied only on roads surrounding Asian American neighborhoods, the lawsuit alleges.
The lawsuit also alleges that county officials targeted Asian American residents for property liens related to unpaid fines for cannabis cultivation. More than 80% of the liens were issued against Asian American property 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 has charred more than 50,000 acres and killed at least four people.
The lawsuit is the latest escalation in a longstanding conflict between law enforcement and Asian American residents in a tiny corner of mountainous Northern California.