A small Mississippi city and its police department are being sued weeks after the police chief was fired after bragging about shooting and killing people in a racist and homophobic rant.
Five Black Mississippians have filed a federal lawsuit requesting a restraining order against the Lexington Police Department to prevent officers from infringing upon citizens’ constitutional rights, according to a copy of the lawsuit obtained by USA TODAY.
The lawsuit, filed by civil-rights law firm JULIAN, is intended to stop law enforcement in Lexington from “threatening, coercing, harassing, assaulting or interfering” with the city’s largely Black population, the group said. The suit claims the department has a pattern and practice of using excessive force, making false arrests and retaliating against officers who report misconduct.
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Last month, police chief Sam Dobbins was fired by the city’s board of alderman after he boasted, in a conversation with a former officer that was secretly recorded, about shooting a Black man more than 100 times. The recording was released last month to the media by JULIAN, which is based in Jackson, Mississippi.
The suit names Dobbins and interim Chief Charles Henderson. Henderson and Lexington Mayor Robin McCrory did not immediately respond to a request for comment. Dobbins was unable to be immediately reached.
“We’re bringing this suit because we’ve got to protect the Black citizens of Lexington,” Jill Collen Jefferson, president and founder of JULIAN, told USA TODAY. “Their rights are being routinely violated. They’re being intimidated, they’re being harassed, they’re being targeted, over and over and over again. And it has not stopped with the firing of that police chief.”
JULIAN is also calling for a federal investigation into “systemic, condoned racism in both the police department and in Lexington’s municipal government as a whole,” according to a press release.
After Dobbins was fired, Henderson told USA TODAY that his new administration would have zero tolerance for racism.
“We’re trying to move forward,” Henderson previously said. “That’s not going to depict the way the Lexington Police Department is … we’re not a part of any type of racist activity.”
Lexington has a population of 1,600 and is about 60 miles north of Jackson. About 80% of the city, nearly 1,300 people, are Black, census data shows.
Information about the size and racial makeup of the police department was not publicly available. Henderson previously told USA TODAY that the “relatively small” police department is about “80-85% Black.”
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The lawsuit says more than 200 Black citizens have formally or informally complained of police violence and misconduct in the past year.
Two of the plaintiffs, brothers Robert and Darius Harris, say police tried to falsely arrest them for violating a fireworks ordinance on New Year’s Eve. The brothers said that although they were shooting fireworks, they were not breaking the law.
The pair “verbally resisted” arrest, and an officer used a stun gun on Darius Harris before taking him into custody, according to the suit. In April, the brothers spoke about the incident at a community meeting. They were arrested again 24 hours later on charges of “retaliation against an officer” and possession of marijuana, the suit says.
Jefferson said the pair were among the most outspoken at the meeting, which led to police targeting them.
“They still have not beat those charges,” she said.
Another plaintiff, Michael Stewart, participated in the community meeting and was arrested two days later for outstanding fines, according to the suit. Stewart, a mechanic, said he was notified his fines were paid in full in July 2021 after spending a year and a half servicing the police department’s vehicles, court documents said.
The suit, filed in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Mississippi, seeks unspecified damages.
Contact Breaking News Reporter N’dea Yancey-Bragg at firstname.lastname@example.org or follow her on Twitter @NdeaYanceyBragg