THE LEXINGTON, MISSISSIPPI, POLICE CRISIS
UPDATE :On November 8,2023, The Department Of Justice announced that it had opened a civil pattern or practice investigation into the city of Lexington, Mississippi, and the Lexington Police Department.
Approximately 1,800 people reside in the City of Lexington, Mississippi—a municipality within Holmes County, the poorest county in the nation. For the past year and a half, residents have been terrorized daily by the very people they entrusted to protect them: the police. The Lexington Police Department has created an environment in which residents are “scared to death.” The community requires around-the-clock crisis management with individual accounts of excessive force, heightened surveillance, harassment, assault, intimidation and a lack of transparency and accountability.
Lexington is a modern-day society in the Jim Crow era. For the most part the town of 1,500 Blacks and 300 whites is openly segregated. Police harass Black residents while they pump gas, run errands, pick up their children from school, and many other day-to-day activities. Their reign is so oppressive that residents try to avoid going into town.
The police in the city of Lexington have made it their mission to deny basic rights of “life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness” to their residents. JULIAN has been managing the police crisis in Lexington since April 2022 and has received hundreds of reports of police misconduct against Blacks in Lexington since. The Black community has provided these reports with first-hand accounts and supporting evidence for these claims.
In Holmes County, Black citizens even call JULIAN while they are being harassed by police so that we can intervene and prevent violence and false arrests. In August of last year, JULIAN filed suit against the City of Lexington, its police department and four individual corrupt officers due to police abuse and misconduct. The suit, pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983, claims violations of both the civil and human rights of Black Lexingtonians. In this suit, Plaintiffs Robert Harris, Darious Harris, Eric Redmond, Malcolm Stewart, and Peter Reeves requested a temporary restraining order (TRO) to be issued by the court before the case is heard in full. They have provided witness testimony and personal accounts of harassment and retaliation, which have most recently been presented before the United States Commission of Civil Rights (USCCR). The TRO has since been denied, and the city has been using the court’s denial as a sign of vindication. Trial is set for June 2024.
The Leaked Audio
In July 2022, JULIAN obtained and released audio of the former police chief of Lexington, Sam Dobbins, confessing to the murders of 13 Black people, saying the N-word, and assuring an officer that he would cover for him if that officer killed someone in “cold blood.” The chief was fired by a 3-2 vote of the Board of Aldermen days later. Even after the firing of the disgraced police chief, his successor, Charles Henderson, has continued to lead the department with a strong arm and an agenda to continue terrorizing the community. One example are the many roadblocks that lead to cash bonds, which are used to misappropriate funds received from the unjustly arrested. LPD refuses to accept payments in any form other than cash, and individuals often do not receive any form of receipt or documentation of their payment. If people were unable to pay in cash, they were held at the jail until they could, which resulted in people losing their jobs. Therefore, the harassment also puts the community in a financial chokehold, prohibiting any potential chance of economic stability. Henderson has also specifically targeted young Black women and has been alleged to demand sexual favors and sexually assault women at random. Several of these women have solicited the assistance of a local news station and JULIAN because the municipality has neglected to take action against Henderson. He was informed that some of his officers are alleged to have participated in similar assaults. There has been no disciplinary action against anyone.
JULIAN also found that many of the arrests recorded in the jail’s logbook had no correlating arrest report, and the vast majority of arrests were either undocumented or the reports withheld despite being responsive to our public records requests. If any documents are produced, they are varied with no uniformity. Not only is the community faced with excessive policing, but the community is also forced to rely on uncertified officers. Our efforts cannot confirm how many officers are certified. Through our public records request, we were unable to determine what any training was for or what the officers were certified in.
JULIAN and its partners have engaged the State Auditor's Office, the Mississippi Advisory Board to the U.S. Civil Rights Commission, the FBI, and the Department of Justice. JULIAN is strategizing further litigation and policy changes in Lexington. Police have begun targeting JULIAN staff and volunteers.