Hinds County Sheriff Lee D. Vance, a four-decade law-enforcement veteran and former chief of the Jackson Police Department, died at his home late Wednesday morning. The Hinds County Sheriff’s Office announced the news on social media, explaining that emergency response found Vance unresponsive. Vance was 63.
With Vance’s passing, Chief Deputy Eric Wall now takes temporary leadership of the Hinds County Sheriff’s Department. Undersheriff Allen White is currently out with COVID-19 as well, having previously been admitted to an area hospital with double pneumonia. The infections of Vance, White and Capt. Tyree Jones all follow a severe coronavirus outbreak at Raymond Detention Center last month.
He grew up in and around Wood Street and stayed in Jackson his entire life. “I started school when schools were still segregated, went to Mary C. Jones Elementary School,” he told Donna Ladd in a public interview at Millsaps College in 2016.
“When we went home for Christmas for my sixth grade year, they started the integration process and I ended up finishing my sixth grade year at Galloway,” Vance said, tracing his education in Jackson through Lanier High School to Jackson State University.“And so I love the City of Jackson, and I am very defensive about Jackson,” he said. “I just believe in fighting for the things I love.”
Vance’s term as Jackson police chief lasted from 2014 to 2017, and Hinds County voters elected him Sheriff in 2019.
Previously, Vance took a nuanced position on the role of police in building relationships in the communities they serve, rejecting aggressive policing strategies like New York City’s stop-and-frisk policy. “This stop-and-frisk stuff, it was crazy,” Vance told the Jackson Free Press in 2016. “I think (NYPD) were giving in to a lot of pressure.” He also liked to say that local Black-led law enforcement agencies did not have the same problems with over-policing and brutality as those in others parts of the country, although realities did not always bear him out.
Tributes from city and county leadership quickly emerged after news of Vance’s passing. Jackson Mayor Chokwe A. Lumumba released a statement mourning the loss of a longtime Jackson public servant who had served as his police chief early in his first mayoral administration.
“The City of Jackson collectively grieves the loss of Hinds County Sheriff Lee Vance and sends its prayers to his family,” Lumumba wrote. “Sheriff Vance was a bright light in the City of Jackson demonstrating an unwavering commitment to its residents through his lifetime of work ensuring public safety. Sheriff Vance loved serving people, a love that was often shown through the warmth of his infectious smile. His lifetime of service spanned from serving as a JPD officer to later rising up the ranks to become JPD chief of police and finally serving as our beloved sheriff.”
“Sheriff Vance was not only a friend to our city, but I considered him a personal friend of mine. He supported efforts toward the growth and development of Jackson and was a personal support to both me and my father. Our prayers are with his family and all of those who were touched by his life,” Lumumba added.
“Sheriff Lee Vance displayed a true heart and passion for Jackson MS,” Ward 6 Councilman Aaron Banks wrote on social media. “He never backed down on what he believed.”
Gov. Tate Reeves shared his condolences with Hinds County and Vance’s family on social media. “MS lost a true law enforcement hero today who spent 30+ years keeping Hinds Co. residents safe. Over many of those years, Lee Vance was a personal friend to me & so many others in this community.”
Late last month, Vance announced that he had tested positive for COVID-19 and had begun his 14-day isolation, which was set to expire later this week. As of press time, the coroner has yet to issue a cause of death, precluding speculation on the nature of Vance’s passing.
Vance was vaccinated against COVID-19 prior to his positive test, making his infection a rare but troubling instance of a breakthrough infection. The Mississippi State Department of Health tracks infections in all vaccinated and unvaccinated individuals, finding that only 5% of all new cases are in vaccinated individuals.
Concerningly, hospitalizations and death breakthroughs are meaningfully higher, with up to 20% of all breakthrough deaths coming from vaccinated Mississippians.
Public-health experts say this is the inevitable consequence of a majority of the most vulnerable populations receiving vaccinations.