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Man in a white and green plaid shirt stands talking with his arms crossed
Mississippi Freedom Democratic Party President for Holmes County, Cordell Wright, provided a 16-minute recording of former Lexington Police Chief Sam Dobbins, which included audio of him using the N-word. File photo by Kayode Crown

Black Lexington Plaintiffs Seek Restraining Order Against Police for ‘Harassment, Coercion, and Threatening Conduct’

Interim Lexington Police Chief Charles Henderson allegedly propositioned about 12 women for sex. When they refused, he allegedly ticketed or arrested them, with one of them spending three months in detention. Those allegations are in an Aug-16, 2022, lawsuit that JULIAN, a civil-rights legal-advocacy organization, the National Police Accountability Project and the Bellinder Law Firm filed Tuesday.

The lawsuit, which listed other allegations against LPD, seeks a restraining order on the police force, JULIAN founder and President Jill Collen Jefferson told the Mississippi Free Press by phone on Aug. 12, 2022. JULIAN is based out of Washington, D.C., and Jefferson lives in Jones County, Miss.

“We are just asking the court to restrain them from targeting, harassing, assaulting Black citizens and violating their constitutional rights in other ways,” the attorney explained. “It’s at a breaking point—it’s actually beyond a breaking point.”

“And the thing is, it’s ridiculous that you have to put a restraining order on a town and on the police, but that is where we are,” she said.

JULIAN and others filed the lawsuit on behalf of five Black plaintiffs—Robert Harris, Darius Harris, Eric Redmond, Peter Reeves and Michael Stewart—who stated that “over 200 Black citizens have formally or informally complained about being harassed, arrested or fined for baseless reasons in the last year or so.”

JULIAN, a civil-rights legal-advocacy organization, the National Police Accountability Project and the Bellinder Law Firm filed this lawsuit on Aug. 16, 2022, at the U.S. Southern District of Mississippi court, asking the court to call the Lexington Police Department to order.

Plaintiffs also want a civilian complaint review board to look into accusations against the police and take steps to redress them, Jefferson told the Mississippi Free Press. “They have been issuing complaints, formally and informally,” she said. “They’ve sent complaints to the mayor—nothing has been done. They filed complaints in the justice court—nothing has been done.”

“To actually have something set up where there’s a mechanism to do something about what’s happening is incredibly important,” she added.

In the lawsuit, JULIAN and others demand that the review board must be independent, have subpoena power for testimony and documents, and be able to impose disciplinary actions for civil-rights violations. The lawsuit says the review board should investigate complaints against LPD for “abuse of power, discrimination, and improper use of force, stops and frisks, and searches and seizures.”

Former Lexington Police Chief Sam Dobbins, who is white; interim Police Chief Charles Henderson, who is Black; the City of Lexington; and the Lexington Police Department are defendants in the suit. The suit cites incidents of harassment and the violation of the rights of the local Black population. Lexington has just over 1,500 residents; over 86% of them are Black.

Former Police Chief Voted Out

On July 19, 2022, the Mississippi Center for Investigative Reporting published a recording that JULIAN shared with them where a law enforcement officer bragged about shooting “that n***er 119 times.” JULIAN identified the speaker as Dobbins. In a 3-2 vote the next day, the board of aldermen fired him as police chief and replaced him with Henderson in the interim.

Former Lexington Mayor Richard Spencer, who is white, and a Black alderman, Charles Simmons, voted to keep Dobbins as chief. Aldermen Clementine Cooper, Josh Davis and Walter Pitchford voted to remove Dobbins.

Former Lexington Police Chief Sam Dobbins is a defendant in a lawsuit that five plaintiffs filed on Aug. 16, 2022, accusing him of harassing Black citizens of Lexington, Miss. Screenshot from WLBT

Mississippi Freedom Democratic Party President Cordell Wright provided the 16-minute audio recording that former LPD Officer Robert Hooker made in April 2022 to the Mississippi Free Press on Aug. 11, 2022. Wright said that since last year the organization has been meeting with Lexington Mayor Robin McCrory and the five-member Board of Aldermen to address public complaints against LDP, but to no avail. Wright said he was surprised that removing Dobbins was not a 5-0 vote.

Wright, who started serving as a paralegal for JULIAN about three months ago, said the group had heard that “some of the prominent whites in the community had talked to three alderpersons to convince them to vote to keep Sam Dobbins as the (police) chief of Lexington,” Wright alleges. “And two of them actually went through with it, including one Black (alderman, Charles Simmons).”

“The other person was another Black person, an older Black person, Alderman Pitchford, but he did not vote the way they wanted him to, and that’s the only reason why (Dobbins) is out of the city because Alderman Pitchford decided not to vote the way the white people wanted him to vote.”

The Mississippi Free Press called Simmons on Aug. 15, 2022. “Don’t call my phone no more. OK?” Simmons said before cutting off the call after the reporter introduced himself.

The Mississippi Free Press reached out to former LPD Chief Dobbins by phone on Aug. 12, 2022, but Dobbins said his lawyer asked him to not provide any comment. “So here’s the deal, OK? I don’t have a statement to give; I’m not allowed to give a statement per my attorney, OK?” he said. “I don’t want you to use any of my pictures, and I don’t want you to use my name. OK? Is that understood?”

Headshot of a woman with long wavy hair
JULIAN founder and President Jill Collen Jefferson said the lawsuit her organization filed on Aug. 16, 2022, against the Lexington Police Department was about restraining the latter from violating the citizens’ constitutional rights. Photo courtesy Jill Collen Jefferson

The Mississippi Free Press, on Aug. 15, 2022, called LDP requesting to speak with the interim chief. He did not return the call as of press time. He told the Associated Press that he is working to move “the Lexington Police Department forward,” the interim-police chief said. “I will say, don’t buy into everything you hear. This is defamation of character.”

Mayor McClory also did not return a call from the MIssissippi Free Press on Aug. 12, 2022, and a call and a text on Aug. 16, 2022.

JULIAN and the others’ lawsuit corroborates Wright’s comments concerning the pressure that Pitchford was under for voting to fire Dobbins.

“Notably, following the Board of Aldermen’s vote, one of the Black aldermen who voted to terminate Dobbins was fired from his job at a white-owned funeral home and threatened by white citizens who told him, ‘N***er, we told you how to vote,’” the lawsuit alleges. “Out of fear for his life, that alderman has ceased communication with civil-rights groups.”

Pitchford was rehired following a community outcry, Jefferson said.

“Lexington’s Black community members have repeatedly asked attorneys, ‘How long will we have to endure?’ before confessing that they are at a ‘breaking point,'” the lawsuit added. “JULIAN has even had to hide Black citizens outside the Lexington city limits in order to protect them from LPD’s violence and constant harassment and the control of the white power structure in Lexington.”

Former Lexington Police Department officer Robert Lee Hooker recorded former Police Chief Sam Dobbins using the N-word in April 2022. Screenshot courtesy WLBT

Wright talked more about what the lawsuit is alleging happened to Pitchford. “It was some issues because we had heard that because Alderman Pitchford voted against Sam Dobbins, that he was terminated from his job, but supposedly after he was terminated, because he didn’t vote the way they wanted him to vote, they rehired him allegedly because they knew that (there) was going to be backlash,” he said.

“Now you see the white community is the people, the group of people that control the money and the business in the city of Lexington,” he continued. “So they have a lot of pull.”

White people make up about 13% of Lexington’s population currently. The town, and Holmes County overall, were once the center of thriving plantations using enslaved Black labor. The 1860 U.S. Census Slave Schedule shows that the county then had 11,975 documented slaves with 185 households owning 20 or more laborers with 621 slave holders owning the rest.

Jefferson also expressed disappointment that Dobbins’ removal was by a slim margin. “So after that vote, the alderman who was basically the deciding vote, that third vote, he was immediately fired from his job,” Jefferson said.

“It was blasted out over the radio that he’d been fired, and then the funeral home hired him back, and then he became … afraid at this point to talk to people because his livelihood was at stake,” she said.

The plaintiffs in the lawsuit filed Tuesday do not believe that a change in leadership is enough reprieve. “Staff members at LPD report that it was actually Defendant Henderson who told Dobbins what to charge individuals with after LPD had falsely arrested them and that Henderson explained to Dobbins how to set the bonds stemming from those false arrests,” the lawsuit alleges. “Defendant Henderson was often the officer dispatched to conduct wrongful arrests while Dobbins stayed behind at the police station.”

“Defendant Henderson played a pivotal role in many of the constitutional violations discussed herein, and LPD, now under his command, has continued to target and harass Black residents.”

A sign about Homes County
This sign on the law of the Holmes County Courthouse in Lexington explains some of the history of the county, which was once the center of thriving plantations using enslaved Black labor. The 1860 U.S. Census Slave Schedule shows that the county then had 11,975 documented slaves with 185 households owning 20 or more laborers with 621 slave holders owning the rest. Photo by Donna Ladd

Jefferson said the tipping point for the lawsuit was because her organization has not seen a change since Dobbins’ termination. “[A]fter he was fired—of course, because of that leaked audio and stuff—nothing changed,” she told the Mississippi Free Press on Aug. 15, 2022. “The police were still targeting people; the town was still trying to cover it up; nothing was being done about it still.”

“And (there is) the fact that the interim police chief, whom they appointed, Charles Henderson, is no better than the one they fired, and they know that because they’ve also gotten a pile of complaints against him,” she said. “They know who he is, yet they put this man in place, which signals to us again that they don’t plan to change.”

Wright said the Mississippi Democratic Freedom Party also has misgivings regarding Henderson’s appointment. “We do have issues with him being the interim chief,” he told the Mississippi Free Press. “Now I talked with him maybe a week or so ago, and I told him, ‘This is a clean slate, so I am looking for you to do what is right and not do what supposedly you’ve always been doing.'”

“So those were the issues because he was kind of the number-two person in charge in the Lexington Police Department, which means that whatever Sam Dobbins wanted him to do, that’s what (Henderson) did,” Wright posited.

He added that “right now we are not hearing too many things that he’s doing that are wrong, maybe because he’s trying to keep it in line or keep it within the road so won’t spark confusion, given Sam Dobbins’ recent termination,” Wright said.

Tuesday’s lawsuit, however, alleged that on Sunday, July 31, 2022, Interim Chief Henderson set up a roadblock and arrested Black churchgoers.

“Given the fact that LPD has continued its harassment under Henderson and given that Dobbins is still allowed to intimidate Black residents, a great number of them victims and witnesses, Lexington’s Black residents have not received any relief that would render this suit unnecessary,” the lawsuit added.

Disparate Treatment of Black and White Citizens

Plaintiff Peter Reeves, 31, was coming from a club around 2 a.m. on March 6, 2022, and met an LDP roadblock on Highway 12 near Gladys’, a restaurant in Lexington. He wrote down what transpired after stopping at the roadblock that Sunday, and his mother, Sherri Reeves, shared it with the Mississippi Free Press via email on March 10, 2022.

Peter Reeves said he presented his driver’s license to Henderson and explained that he had “no proof of insurance.”

“He told me to pull to the side, which I complied with no problem,” Peter Reeves added. “He came back to my car 15 minutes later stating that my car smelled like marijuana and asked me to step out of the car to conduct a search.”

Tarsha Walden said she left Lexington, Miss., to avoid police harassment. Photo courtesy Tarsha Walden

“There wasn’t any weed in my car,” Peter Reeves told Henderson.

“I’m charging you with the pills I found, they have George Reeves’ name on (the bottle),” Henderson replied.

Peter Reeves wrote in the statement that he drives his uncle George Reeves, whom he described as a “sickly, retired Vietnam War veteran,” and that the Tylenol was his prescription.

“That’s my uncle,” he told Officer Henderson in the wee hours of that Sunday morning, and added in the statement made available to the Mississippi Free Press that the officer knew him, his uncle and his mom.

“Well, that’s not you,” Henderson replied to Peter Reeves. All this happened before his mom came on the scene.

When Reeves’ mother, Sherri Reeves, 59, got to the scene that night, she started filming. She told the Mississippi Free Press two days later, on March 8, 2022, over the phone that the arresting officer was Henderson, and he declined to tell her the name of the illegal substance that he said he found in her son’s car.

Tyqwon Walden said former Lexington Police Chief Sam Dobbins arrested him for having no car insurance while he was standing at a convenience store. Photo courtesy Tarsha Walden

Sherri Reeves relayed the interaction between herself and the tow-truck driver that the police called to move the car to the impound lot. “If the police release your son’s car, you’ll have to pay to get it out. You can just take the car home,” the tow truck driver told Sherri Reeves.

Apparently hearing the exchange, the officer “yelled out the operator’s name real loud,” the mother continued.

“At that point, I knew he was not going to release the car to me because, number one, he was annoyed about the recording, and he spoke to me like I was 5 years old, like, whatever he said was the law,” Reeves said.

Peter Reeves called his mother from the jail at 8:44 a.m. and told her what had happened that morning.

“What he found was a bottle of Tylenol, 325 milligrams, with the name George Reeves on it,” she said. “George Reeves is my son’s uncle; he is a decorated Vietnam veteran who has PTSD and other issues.”

“My son takes him to his doctor’s appointments, and he takes him wherever else he needs to go, because we don’t like him to drive,” she added. “He lives in the household with us, so that was the reason why the Tylenol was in his car.”

A lawsuit that five plaintiffs filed on Aug. 16, 2022, accused the Lexington Police Department of making false arrests to have the bonds as a revenue source for city government. Photo courtesy Lexington City Hall

Sherri Reeves reached out to the mayor on Sunday, sending her the video of the interaction. The mayor called her back at 8:34 a.m. to discuss the incident and again at 8:49 a.m. “I have Chief Dobbins on the phone; I’m going to give him your phone number,” Mayor McCrory told Sherri Reeves over the phone that morning.

“No ma’am, I choose not to talk to Chief Dobbins,” Sherri Reeves told the mayor on the phone. “I am calling you because I need you to mediate the situation. If we can’t resolve this in any legal way today, I’m going to have to seek legal counsel and file a complaint.”

The mayor called her again at about 3 p.m. on Monday.

“Ms. Reeves, I have Officer Henderson here, and he wants to talk to you,” the mayor told Reeves.

“I have no desire to talk to Officer Henderson,” Sherri Reeves replied.

The Lexington, Miss., Police Department (pictured) is facing a lawsuit seeking a restraining order against alleged harmful practices. Photo courtesy Google Maps

In the background, Reeves said he can hear Henderson saying, “You know I am giving your son a break?”

“I need you—the mayor—to interpret what he’s saying to me,” Sherri Reeves said, refusing to engage with Henderson. “I have no desire to talk to him (because) of the way he talked to me that morning of the traffic-stop.”

“Well, he’s reducing the charge from a felony down to a misdemeanor,” Sherri Reeves recalled McCrory saying.

Sherri Reeves told the Mississippi Free Press the misdemeanor was for having tinted windows and no insurance. “So we went from a controlled substance down to a tinted window and no insurance charge, and I had to pay a total of $621 (bond) to get him released from jail,” she said.

The lawsuit described Peter Reeves as being a subject of “false arrests” and retaliation for expressing critical views about LPD and subjected to racially discriminatory enforcement of laws.

“The culture of Lexington is corrupt. The city is, in a sense, under its own martial law, with Black citizens held hostage to the police, afraid to leave their homes,” the lawsuit alleges. “The targeting, harassment and corruption run so deep that most community members are afraid to speak to civil-rights attorneys and activists out of fear of retaliation.”

“Weeks before his arrest, Mr. Reeves had criticized an LPD officer on social media,” the suit said. “That same officer is the individual who targeted Mr. Reeves in the roadblock in retaliation for Mr. Reeves’ comments.” The legal filing did not indicate the name of the officer.

Peter Reeves, the lawsuit added, observed disparate treatment of Blacks and whites, while waiting in handcuffs. “Sitting in the back of a police vehicle for approximately forty (40) minutes, Mr. Reeves witnessed authorities arrest multiple Black drivers at the roadblock while allowing white drivers to pass through unstopped,” the suit continued.

“Multiple accounts also confirm that LPD set roadblocks near the predominantly-Black Holmes Central High School anytime the school held events. By contrast, LPD does not conduct roadblocks during activities of the predominantly-white Central Holmes High School.”

Holmes County Central High School (9479 Brozwell Road) has over 98% Black enrollment, while Central Holmes High School is actually Central Holmes Christian School (130 Robert E. Lee Drive), which white supremacists set up in 1967 as Central Holmes Academy as a one of a multitude of whites-only segregation schools across the state. The lead plaintiff in the landmark U.S. Supreme Court case that forced southern segregated public schools to integrate immediately in early 1970—16 years after Brown vs. Board outlawed segregated public schools—was Beatrice Alexander suing the Holmes County School District.

A parked blue school bus that says Central Holmes Christian School on the side
Most white children in and around Lexington attend the Central Holmes Christian School, which began in 1967 as a whites-only segregation academy. It is still overwhelmingly white, just as the public Holmes County Central High School is more than 98% Black. Members of the Black community say local law enforcement often set up roadblocks near the public school but not the private one. Photo by Donna Ladd

“On information and belief, LPD conducted roadblocks multiple times per day for several months,” the suit added. “Plaintiffs estimate that in a town with an area no larger than 2.5 square miles, LPD has conducted at least 300 roadblocks within the past year, targeting Black people.”

“These roadblocks are set up for no legitimate purpose other than to surveil Black drivers and passengers,” the suit continued. “According to these facts, LPD violated Mr. Reeves and others’ First Amendment right to be free from retaliation for exercising their protected First Amendment rights to free speech, their Fourth Amendment right to be free from unreasonable search and seizure and false arrest, and their right to travel freely.”

The lawsuit also added information regarding the treatment of the tow-truck driver. “After arresting Mr. Reeves, LPD called a tow truck driver to tow his car,” the suit added. “When the tow truck driver arrived on the scene, he informed the officers that he could take the vehicle to Mr. Reeves’ home instead of towing it to a lot.”

“The officers became enraged and assaulted him by slamming him against his towing vehicle twice and exclaiming, ‘Do the f*cking job we called you to do!'”

The Lexington Board of Aldermen voted to fire Sam Dobbins, who is white, as police chief on July 20, 2022, one day after a recording of him using the N-word emerged. Screenshot courtesy WLBT

The lawsuit alleged that the incident was part of “a continuous pattern of LPD’s harassment, coercion, threatening conduct, and often brutal mistreatment of Plaintiffs and other Black Lexington citizens who were engaging in quality time with their families, conducting professional obligations, or merely traveling on public roads for the purpose of paying bills, getting to work,” the suit added.

“The acts and conduct of LPD, as outlined above and described below, have not been directed toward enforcing any valid law of the State of Mississippi or furthering any legitimate policy of the State of Mississippi, but have been for the purpose of and have had the effect of preventing and discouraging Black citizens from exercising their constitutional rights of citizenship.”

Lawsuit Alleges Henderson Threatened Stewart

The legal filing described the encounter of Michael Stewart, one of the plaintiffs, with Henderson. “Previously, in March 2021, Lexington’s now-Interim Chief, Defendant Henderson, threatened to kill Mr. Stewart as he sat in his car on private property simply because Mr. Stewart had refused to leave the premises,” the plaintiffs said. “Defendant Henderson told Mr. Stewart that he was working that night and did not want ‘nobody’ out.”

“Mr. Stewart opposed Defendant Henderson’s order because the property’s owners had not issued the request,” the suit added. “Defendant Henderson then threatened to arrest Mr. Stewart for ‘disobeying a direct order.'”

“If you don’t get the f*ck off this lot, your family gone be wearing a Black suit or a Black dress by Sunday,” Henderson allegedly said. The lawsuit described that the officer “was targeting and harassing Mr. Stewart in retaliation for Mr. Stewart voicing his concerns about LPD.”

The plaintiffs accused LPD of violence against a woman in her 60s.

“In another incident, LPD officers, including Defendant Henderson, broke down a woman’s door without a warrant, maced her, arrested her absent probable cause for a crime without Mirandizing her, and hosed her down from head to toe with a fire hose, before leaving her outside,” the legal filing alleged. “She is in her 60s. It was the middle of winter, and she had on nothing but a nightgown.”

Shirley Gibson told WLBT in December 2021 that Lexington, Miss., police officers maced her twice in her home. Screenshot courtesy WLBT

WLBT shared the story of a woman in a report in December 2021, naming her as Shirley Gibson.

“I can’t sleep, can’t eat,” she told the Jackson-based TV station as she wiped tears from her eyes in the report.

“They bust up in my house, Officer Henderson caught me around my neck, slammed me on the floor; they maced me not once but twice; they jumped on my son; they hit him; they stomped his feet,” she added. “I’m very terrified because this ain’t the first time they did it. They didn’t have no search warrant.”

Gibson shared photos with WLBT showing wounds that she said she suffered in the incident, which occurred after local police told her there was a shooting near her home, and she told them they had the wrong home.

The police arrested both Gibson and her son and charged them with resisting arrest, the WLBT report continued. “How can I resist arrest when they burst into my house? They never had a search warrant, they never said, ‘You have the right to remain silent’; they never read us some rights.”

A confederate statue in front of a red brick building with clock tower
One of the ubiquitous Confederate statues that dots county courthouse lawns across Mississippi, celebrating the cause and soldiers of the Confederacy, stands on the law of the Holmes County Courthouse in Lexington. The town is over 86% Black. Photo by Donna Ladd

In the view of the plaintiffs in the lawsuit filed Aug. 16, 2022, “LPD maintains customs, policies, and practices of using disproportionate and unnecessary force against Black Lexington residents that are not resisting arrest and otherwise pose no threat of harm to officers,” the lawsuit, which represents one side of a legal dispute, said. “All uses of excessive force against Plaintiffs were pursuant to LPD’s customs, policies, and practices.”

“In another incident, Defendant Henderson shoved an elderly woman against her car during an unnecessary stop even though she was not actively resisting Defendant Henderson’s orders or attempting to flee,” the filing alleged.

“Unfortunately, Plaintiffs are not the only individuals to be subjected to unnecessary force,” they added. “Victim accounts and images of injuries confirm that on multiple occasions, LPD officers have beaten up individuals in their custody.”

“In one account, officers left one man on (a) hospital curb after assaulting him,” the lawsuit added.

The legal filing alleged that an unnamed woman now lives in fear after officers threw her to the ground during a roadblock and broke her finger, which has not fully healed. LPD had discovered that “she had ‘old fines.'”

“She still does not have full functionality in her finger back, and she and others now report that they only leave their homes during select hours of the day when LPD officers are on shift change or when they otherwise do not expect officers to be on patrol,” the lawsuit added. “The targeting, harassment, and corruption run so deep that most community members are even afraid to speak to civil rights attorneys and activists out of fear of retaliation.”

A lawsuit filed on Aug. 16, 2022, accused Lexington Mayor Robin McCrory of not addressing numerous complaints against the Lexington Police Department. Photo courtesy MSU

“Many of those who do talk do so only in the shelter of their homes or outside the city altogether.”

Running the City on False Arrests?

Jill Jefferson accused the City of Lexington of running its operations on the back of LPD’s constitutional violations. “Lexington does not have that much money; this is how they’re paying their bills—by jailing people, by targeting people, arresting them, falsely, all of that, and then putting these excessive bail amounts on them, and then they pocket that money, that’s how that’s happening,” she told the Mississippi Free Press.

The lawsuit alleges that “[u]pon information and belief, Defendant Dobbins promised Lexington City Officials that he would generate more fines in order to bring in more revenue,” the plaintiffs said. “This revenue was obtained by violating Black citizens’ constitutional rights and fining them for it.”

Jefferson, commenting further on that allegation, said: “That is what multiple people have told us—informed people who know that that is exactly what Dobbins said and what he promised. He said that multiple times … that he would brag from week-to-week, month-to-month, about ‘Look how much money I’m bringing into this City.'”

One of the plaintiffs, Eric Redmond, in May 2022 went to pay the bail bond for his sister, who had explained to him over the phone that she needed $700 for her release. After entering the precinct, he received another call from her that LPD had changed the bail to $2,000.

“Mr. Redmond immediately asked to speak with the Chief of Police, Defendant Dobbins, to discuss why the bail amount had changed,” the lawsuit alleges. “The arresting officer refused to let him speak with the Chief.”

An LPD officer ordered Redmond to leave, and when Dobbins came outside, he commanded his arrest and detention. “I’m gonna blast your a**,” the unnamed officer told Redmond after he pulled out his taser, the lawsuit alleges.

“LPD did not explain the reason for the arrest, state the charges, or read Mr. Redmond his Miranda rights,” the lawsuit alleges. “When Mr. Redmond arrived at Holmes-Humphreys Regional Correctional Facility, he was informed that he had been charged with disorderly conduct and resisting arrest.”

The lawsuit included this image purportedly showing former Lexington Police Chief Sam Dobbins “shining his flashlight into Darius Harris’ eyes while he was still being tased. It was at this moment that Dobbins commanded Darius to put his hands behind his (back).”

“It was approximately eight (8) hours before he was notified of the amount of his bond,” the lawsuit further alleges. “While he was detained, LPD officers had Mr. Redmond’s vehicle towed without notifying him or requesting his consent.”

JULIAN and others included the lawsuit opined that there was no probable cause to arrest Mr. Redmond and that the arrest was in retaliation “for Mr. Redmond questions regarding the increased bail charged to his sister.”

“Additionally, the force used to arrest Mr. Redmond was not proportionate to any threat or resistance he displayed,” the lawsuit added. “And unfortunately, the constitutional violations visited upon these Plaintiffs by LPD, under the control and purview of Defendants, are neither accidents nor anomalies.”

“They are part of a pattern, practice, and custom of corruption and lawlessness visited upon hundreds of Black citizens.”

Jefferson accused LPD of pulling the amount for bond out of thin air. “They make these numbers up off the top of their head, and the way that it works legally in the system is that a felony is worth more than a misdemeanor,” she said. “They’ll put felonies on people so they can drive up the bail.”

“What they’re relying on is that people are going to come through and pay, and then two, like the bigger the amount, of course, that’s more money in their coffers, which is again going back to what I said earlier—this is how they’re funding this City.”

“This is their revenue; they are actually benefiting from constitutional violations, profiting from constitutional violations,” she added.

Jefferson pointed to the overwhelming majority of Black residents of Lexington. “But the mayor is white. Just most recently, the chief was white. The judge (Marc Boutwell) is white; the family that controls that whole town, the wealthy family who also happens to be the city attorney, they’re white. This Is Jim Crow.”

Lexington City Attorney Katherine Barrett Riley, who is part of the all-white Barrett Law Group in Lexington, said her family means well for the city while reacting to comments that they control “the whole town”. Photo courtesy Katherine Barrett Riley

When asked for the name of the family she claims controls the town, Jefferson said: “The Barretts; that’s their name. The city attorney, her name is Katherine Barrett (Riley).”

The city attorney, in an email to the Mississippi Free Press on Aug. 16, 2022, pushed back against Jefferson’s assertion after the reporter asked for her response to Jefferson’s statement that her family, “the Barretts,” “controls the whole town” of Lexington.

“I would be glad to respond to any specific facts that Ms. Jefferson believes are true,” she wrote. “I believe if you speak to people who actually work and interact with us on a regular basis that you will find we have a great relationship with most (of) our fellow Lexington citizens.”

“We love Lexington and the people that live here, and we work with everyone to try and make it a town that is thriving and not dying like lots of other Delta towns,” she added. “My father and I believe that the entire town must work together to make Lexington a special place to live. Divided we will fall.”

A three story red brick building that says Rayner Bldg 1915 - Barrett Law Office on the top
Katherine Barrett Riley is part of the powerful, all-white Barrett Law Group on the court square in Lexington. Her father John W. (Don) Barrett is a storied trial attorney who had great success representing Black plaintiffs against the tobacco industry. Photo by Donna Ladd

The city attorney is also part of the all-white Barrett Law Group alongside her father, trial lawyer Don Barrett who achieved notoriety for suing the tobacco industry on behalf of Black Mississippi Delta clients, alongside lawsuits in other industries. He also made news in recent years for his support of a controversial overhaul of the Confederate cemetery on the University of Mississippi campus, including for racist comments he made to national media in the 1960s while a UM student, which he later expressed regret for saying as a teenager.

In his interview with the Mississippi Free Press, Wright commented on the economic power dynamics in the city and the implications of that for the political realities. “Now you see the white community is the group of people that control the money and the business in the city of Lexington,” he said. “And in Holmes County, we have an issue with race relations. As long as the prominent whites get what they want, then there is no issue.”

“So basically, because they control the money, they kind of control people,” he added about white Lexington residents. “And regardless of whether the people want to do what’s right, they’re normally under pressure to do, to vote for, and act in the best interest of the white community and not the Black.”

Jefferson pushed back on claims that during Dobbin’s time as police chief, he cut the crime rate. “The police are the gang of the town,” she claimed. “… This is not about crime. This is about white supremacy and corruption.”

To further illustrate her allegation relating to arbitrary arrests for income generation for the City of Lexington, Jefferson added, “They give people traffic violations when people are not even on the road.”

“One woman, she was at a car wash, vacuuming out her car—I mentioned that in the complaint—this is Michael Stewart’s daughter,” Jefferson added. “She wasn’t even in her car (but was) vacuuming out her car; Henderson, who is the interim chief now, comes and harasses her and threatens to arrest her, gives her a traffic violation. She is not on the road. This woman is at a private car wash in the lot; again, vacuuming her car.”

“They gave one person a traffic ticket when he was in a convenience store. And then, they also mailed a ticket to his mother in Memphis because the car belonged to her. Like there’s no way that that’s legal.”

‘I Paid Exactly $3,600 to Get Him Out of Jail’

The Mississippi Free Press spoke with 21-year-old Tyqwon Walden and his mother, Tarsha Walden, in March 2022. Tyqwon Walden said Dobbins arrested him at a convenience store and charged him, among other things, with having no car insurance while he was not in the car.

“I paid exactly $3,600 to get him out of jail,” Tarsha Walden said in a phone interview with the Mississippi Free Press on March 10, 2022. “They told me he had $2,100 worth of fines. I paid $2,100 to get him out of jail, plus the bail bond.”

Lawyers for National Police Accountability Project are representing five plaintiffs in a lawsuit filed on Aug. 16, 2022. Logo courtesy National Police Accountability Project

The judge later dismissed the case because Dobbins could not produce an arrest warrant when the case came before him, Tarsha Walden told the Mississippi Free Press over the phone on Aug. 12, 2022. “And when we got to court, the charges were dismissed because he didn’t have a warrant out for my son’s arrest, but you locked him up, but you didn’t have a warrant out for his arrest.”

“So all the charges that he had against him were dismissed. You didn’t have a warrant for his arrest. So why did you arrest him? And it’s like every day that my son leaves the house, they harass him. Even when he walks, they harass him,” she said. “It got to the point where I literally had to pack my stuff, me and my kids, and move to another state.”

Because Tyqwon Walden spent about five days in prison, he was fired from his job spreading out meat at Peco Foods in Canton, Miss.

The lawsuit said that Henderson started bothering Mrs. Stewart’s daughter after she turned down his romantic advances.

“On several other occasions, Defendant Henderson approached her at stores and forced her to leave based on alleged crimes he made up on the spot, such as ‘taking too long’ to get out of her car,” the lawsuit, which represents one side of a legal dispute, alleges. “In another instance, he threatened to arrest her for getting out of her car after he himself had directed her to exit the vehicle.”

Henderson declined an interview with the Mississippi Free Press.

 

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