The Siskiyou County sheriff and other county officials have been hit with a new federal lawsuit alleging widespread discrimination against Asian American residents, the second such suit against county officials in the past year.
Sheriff Jeremiah LaRue and the county were sued in Sacramento federal court late Wednesday by the American Civil Liberties Union of Northern California in a filing that seeks class-action status for Asian Americans who say they have been harassed by deputies through traffic stops, discriminated against in public meetings and been wrongly accused of criminal activity.
The suit accuses the sheriff of engaging “in a sweeping campaign to harass and intimidate Hmong and other Asian Americans.”
“In service of this campaign, the defendants have used widespread racial profiling in traffic stops, restricted access to water making it difficult for Asian American residents to live, and placed unlawful liens to dispossess Asian Americans of their land,” the 52-page lawsuit claims. “This targeting is designed to drive a disfavored racial minority from the county and has its roots in anti-Asian racism in Siskiyou dating back to the 1800s.
“Indeed, much of the language used in recent years to describe problems supposedly tied to Asian Americans in Siskiyou is disturbingly like the rhetoric used during the shameful history of anti-Chinese policies and practices in the county and the state of California.”
LaRue, whose office has been dealing with the McKinney Fire since last Friday — the largest and most deadly wildfire in California this year — did not immediately respond to a request for comment Thursday. His cell phone voicemail was full, and he did not return a text message seeking a response to the suit.
The lawsuit follows another filed against county officials last year that claimed new policies limiting water usage and deliveries to certain areas were aimed at Hmong farmers growing marijuana. U.S. District Judge Kimberly J. Mueller issued a preliminary injunction against the county last September in that suit, which is pending.
The new lawsuit, filed by the ACLU along with the San Francisco-based Asian Americans Advancing Justice – Asian Law Caucus, names four plaintiffs and says Asian American residents — who represent 1.6% of the county’s 45,000 residents — face routine discrimination in the county from law enforcement and others.
“The county’s Board of Supervisors and sheriff treat Asian Americans, including Hmong residents, as unwelcome compared to their white, longer-established neighbors,” the suit alleges. “Like some of their most vocal constituents, they view Asian Americans as a monolithic group of which every single person is part of a violent drug cartel and blame the county’s widespread cannabis cultivation on Asian Americans in explicitly racialized terms, notwithstanding that cannabis has been grown in the county for decades.”
The suit cites comments from the public at meetings that it describes as “this bigoted narrative,” including one instance where “the board singled out Hmong attendees at a 2015 public meeting, calling first for a show of hands from ‘the Hmong residents’ on the issues presented, and then calling for a vote of ‘those county residents present,’ as if the Hmong people were outsiders.”
The suit claims that prior to the 2016 elections the county “flagged new voter registration from Asian Americans as potentially fraudulent,” and that the sheriff sent “armed deputies to investigate these claims and set up barricades blocking Hmong neighborhoods ….”
“The California Department of Justice ultimately ordered election monitoring to ensure Asian Americans’ right to vote,” the suit says.
The lawsuit also cites the water restrictions that some Hmong residents say have made daily life difficult because of the lack of available water at their homes, and says LaRue’s deputies routinely single out Asian American drivers for unwarranted traffic stops.
“For example, the Sheriff’s Department stops Asian American drivers at a rate roughly twelve times greater than their proportion of the driving-age population,” the suit says. “County data further shows that the Sheriff’s Department stops Asian Americans during the day, when a driver’s race is more readily visible, at a nearly 60% higher rate than during the night.”
Tensions between Asian American residents and county officials have been growing for years, as the county has complained about thousands of marijuana greenhouses springing up that are mainly tended by growers of Asian descent.
County officials have denied any racial bias, but tensions have remained high, especially after the June 2021 shooting of a Hmong man at a roadblock during the Lava Fire.
The District Attorney ultimately cleared the four officers in that incident, saying that Soobleej Kaub Hawj, 35, of Kansas City, was high on methamphetamine and pointed a loaded handgun at officers, then rammed his truck toward them.