The Oxford Police Department is “determining appropriate charges” for a local man who law enforcement says “victimized and harassed” several women when he shot and posted a photo of them sunbathing outside their home and uploaded it to Facebook on April 15.
Alana Keenan, one of the women in the photo, tweeted that she and her roommates were tanning in their yard on Wednesday when a man stopped in front of the house and took the photo. Later, the women, who are students at the University of Mississippi, started receiving messages pointing them to the man’s Facebook post.
“Suns out, Buns out!! Only in Oxford Ms will you find the natives in the front yard, in a thong, while waving their stinkers in the air,” Mills Hawkins, a sales representative for Magnolia Brick in Oxford, wrote in a Facebook post that showed six women lying on the lawn in bathing suits. “Tis the season!”
Hawkins was in a truck with his boss in the passenger seat when he saw the women, rolled down the window and took the photo, as he wrote in a comment on his own post on Wednesday. Hawkins later posted a screenshot of a message that he said was from a father of one of the women, asking him to delete the photo “by the morning.”
“Two thongs don’t make a right,” Hawkins replied.
Hawkinslater deleted the photo, but continued disparaging the women as he announced his decision.
Police Officer Told Women to Delete Criticisms
“After much prayer & soul searching, I’ve decided to remove the post of Susie Cooties, Heather Herpes, & friends sunbathing in the front yard, by the Square, with their Foo Foo’s in the air, in a G-string, 100 feet from an elementary school & in 60 degree weather,” he wrote, without mentioning the fact that all schools in Oxford and across the state have been closed since mid-March to help stop the spread of the novel coronavirus. “I realize now nothing has changed, even in a pandemic, nothing is funny, and everything is still offensive.”
Hawkins’ language to describe the women was “objectifying” and a form of harassment, Bridget S. Pieschel, the director of the Center for Women’s Research and Public Policy at the Mississippi University for Women in Columbus, told the Mississippi Free Press on Sunday.
“The way he referred to them to start with was not as people—it was as body parts,” she said. “The language ‘stinkers’ and ‘buns’—those are objectifying. And later, instead of an apology, he implied that the women are diseased or predators who are after local schools. And that was really chilling because police need to realize that the statement says more about him than it does about the women.”
After the women in the photo tweeted criticisms of the man’s behavior, though, Keenan said in a later tweet, “we had a police officer bring the man’s wife on our yard while she told us it was a ‘JOKE’ telling us WE can get charged.” The officer told the women to delete the tweet, Keenan claimed, telling them the man was receiving harassing calls and messages.
“The police said if it wasn’t taken down, we would all face charges of harassment (us harassing him) and have to go to court to fight this case,” she said.
On April 16, the police department sent out a confusing, vaguely worded tweet.
“We are aware of a social media post going around. We have spoken to the reporting party and formal report has been made. We have also spoken with person who originally posted the photo. We will stay in contact with the reporting party. That is all we can release at this time,” reads the @OxfordPolice account’s tweet, which the department has since deleted.
In a statement Thursday, Oxford Chief of Police Jeff McCutchen apologized for how the department handled the incident.
“The post and comments were vile and disgusting! As a department, we did not handle this with the professionalism and understanding that we should have,” McCutchen said. “Last night, our investigators were assigned to the case, and we are working alongside the victims. We are determining appropriate charges and providing assistance to the victims. This case is ongoing and an open investigation.”
On April 17, though, Keenan tweeted that law enforcement had since told the women they could not find a chargeable offense because Hawkins took the photo on a public road, but that Oxford Police had been “very helpful in resolving this issue.”
“But I do believe the most justice was served through Twitter. So me and my roommates wanted to say thank you to every person who has supported us along the way,” Keenan wrote. “It’s truly incredible to be supported by women across the U.S. Seeing all of y’all stick up for us and defend WOMEN as a whole was an unreal thing to witness.”
On Monday, Hildon Sessums, a captain with the Oxford Police Department, declined to confirm or deny Keenan’s claim that police said there was no chargeable offense.
“Because it’s still an open investigation, I can’t talk about it,” Sessums said.
When asked if the “open” status means Keenan is wrong, the captain reiterated that he could not comment.
‘Boys Will Be Boys’
The women should push for charges anyway, Pieschel of the W told the Mississippi Free Press on Sunday. She said Hawkins’ actions amount to a form of harassment that encouraged others to participate.
The initial police response, the Columbus academic said, “more than likely is because of a general sense that ‘boys will be boys’” and the mistaken idea that attractive women are “somehow asking for negative attention” whether they’re out in their own yards, walking down a street alone at night or enjoying themselves at a bar. Men like Hawkins, meanwhile, often slide by on assumptions that they are “some type of boyish joker or something like that,” she said.
“That is not necessarily an overtly malicious attitude among the police force. It’s something that’s ingrained and something they need pretty serious training to recognize,” Pieschel said.
The contents of Hawkins’ posts and his follow-ups, though, should’ve been “red flags” for police, she said.
“People like Mr. Hawkins see young women as if they’re items on a dessert menu. In other words, there they are, they must be offering themselves for selection,” Pieschel said. “And then he assumes that the photographs that he takes and the whole scene are his possessions. … When he gets some pushback from the women who are righteously angry, he acts as if someone has taken a treat from him.”
Hawkins in the News Before
This is not the first time Hawkins has drawn media attention, she pointed out. In 2017, the University of Mississippi’s head football coach, Hugh Freeze, resigned under pressure after he used a university-issued cellphone to call a sex-worker service. Hawkins was at a birthday party for his 3-year-old son in December when he learned that UM’s second head coach since Freeze, Lane Kiffin, would soon land in town. Hawkins headed over to the Oxford-University airport while carrying his 2-month-old baby, and handed him to Kiffin for a photo.
“Get you a burner phone, alright?” Hawkins told the new coach as Kiffin handed the baby back, in a video News Mississippi captured that went viral on social media. The sales representative later told the outlet that the moment “was a combination of just a little booze and some mischievous thinking.”
Days later, though, Hawkins gushed, telling the Daily Journal it was the “first time I’ve been brought up as a meme on the internet” and that it was boosting his career.
“I’ve been able to talk to clients that I’ve been trying to get in touch with that normally don’t do business with me. … I always make the joke that I’m such an A-lister on par with Snooki and Honey Boo-Boo and the guy from the Canon commercial,” Hawkins told the Tupelo newspaper in a story titled, “‘Burner phone’ comment creates lasting memories for Ole miss fan, family.”
Pieschel said she was aware of the incident at the time and deeply dissatisfied with the way news outlets covered it.
“The media, including the Ole Miss media, made it kind of into a family, once-in-a-lifetime event (story), and he was considered to be just the hilarious jokester. Even he said then, well, you know, I’m not sure why I said it, but it’s probably because of excitement and alcohol. And you know, he was not criticized for that.” the Columbus academic said.
“And I remember when that happened, I thought it was just horrible, why do people think this is a normal way to act? Well, now he’s back in the news again.”
This story has been updated to note that the Oxford Police Department says the case remains open and declined to say whether police have decided against charges or not. The headline has been updated to reflect this change.