The Mississippi Department of Public Safety says a state trooper did nothing wrong in a viral video of his arrest of a McComb man on a country road. The state public defender says the officer had no good reason to search the man’s car and prolong the stop. A national violence and policing expert says the man and his brothers overreacted to the officer’s actions—but he understands why they did as Black men due to the history of violent policing in the state and the nation.
Mississippi Attorney Carlos Moore says Eugene Lewis has grounds to sue after Mississippi Highway Patrol Officer Hayden Falvey held him by the neck, dragged him across a Pike County, Miss., road, and put his knee on him on Aug. 5, 2022. Moore, a managing partner with The Cochran Firm in Grenada, Miss., spoke with the Mississippi Free Press over the phone on Aug. 18, 2022, in response to law-enforcement claims that Falvey responded appropriately.
Eugene Lewis’ brother, Packer, had recorded a five-minute portion of the interaction via Facebook Live as he and brother Darius Lewis watched the interaction after arriving on the scene together. Following media attention to the incident based on the recording, on Aug. 12, 2022, the Mississippi Department of Public Safety released nearly 40 minutes of the camera recording of the incident, which the agency argued shows that Falvey did not use excessive force.
Civil-rights lawyer Moore has a different view, observing that “once he’s in handcuffs, all bets are off, and anything done at that point could be considered excessive force.”
“So from the totality of the video, I do believe there are portions where the trooper acted inappropriately,” he added. “And if he was sued for excessive force, I think the plaintiff would prevail civilly.”
A Aug. 12, 2022, Mississippi Department of Public Safety press release, which accompanied the full video release, explained that the reason for the traffic stop was because Falvey observed Eugene Lewis “traveling at a high rate of speed,” on Delaware Avenue in McComb, “passing vehicles on the right, not wearing a seatbelt and speeding up to travel through an intersection after the light turned from green to yellow,” the press release said.
In a phone interview with the Mississippi Free Press, Mississippi State Public Defender Andre’ De Gruy wondered why the trooper had to go through the process of searching the vehicle for a long time.
“Why don’t we just write him a ticket, and that’d be the end of it? Why take him out of the car? Why search the car?” De Gruy questioned. “I know he asked him about the use of marijuana, but the whole thing would’ve been avoided if he had just written the tickets that he ultimately ended up writing anyway.”
“Why get him out of the car, handcuffing (him and searching) the entire vehicle,” he added. “This never would’ve happened if they had just written the tickets and sent him off.”
The press release stated that after arresting the three brothers, the Mississippi Highway Patrol took them to Pike County Jail. The 1,317-word press release included time-stamped explanations of portions of the 40-minute video.
“All three Lewis men ignored repeated commands by Trooper Falvey to return to their respective vehicles (E. Lewis to the police cruiser),” the press release explained. “All three men continuously shouted expletives at Trooper Falvey and made it clear that they had no intention of following his commands.”
“This placed Trooper Falvey in an untenable position and created a dangerous situation for all four men,” the press release added. “Nevertheless, Trooper Falvey never struck any of the Lewis men or used any force beyond the necessary restraining techniques used upon E. Lewis.”
Los Angeles-based violence expert Ron Noblett thought Falvey was professional in his talk with Eugene Lewis that night, and when his family showed up, he felt like he was outnumbered.
“(When the officer) said, ‘I’m gonna take you in,’ at that point, the person in question started getting agitated, and as he got more agitated, he got more hysterical, and the more hysterical he got, the more aggressive he became with the cop,” the Urban Peace Institute senior conflict and violence consultant said. “And the policeman was reacting toward him in a way that the police would naturally react to anyone who was resisting, and that would be to meet him with some force.”
Noblett was a lead researcher on violence prevention and policing in Mississippi’s capital city for BOTEC Analysis reports, which the Mississippi Legislature funded for release in 2016.
“When he put him in the car, and the guy started screaming that he was being attacked and beaten and everything—to me, by that time, the person in question had just lost all sense and reason and was getting hysterical,” Noblett added in the interview. “When his two brothers showed up, they made the situation even worse by challenging the officer, and then by screaming, once they came back, the second time, screaming that he was being beaten and all that when I saw none of that.”
Officials charged Eugene Lewis with resisting arrest, careless driving, seatbelt violation, window tint violation, no proof of insurance, driving under the influence, resisting arrest, failure to comply and disregard for a traffic device. The press release named Packer Lewis as Gary Lewis and Darius Lewis as Derrius Lewis.
“Gary Lewis was charged with two counts of Obstructing a Public Street, Resisting Arrest, Failure to Comply, No Driver’s License on Demand, Seatbelt Violation, Expired Tag, Improperly Displayed Tag, and Window Tint Violation,” the Mississippi Department of Public Safety report said. “Derrius Lewis was charged with Resisting Arrest, Failure to Comply, Public Drunkenness, and Disturbing the Peace.”
Noblett expressed sadness because he believed that Eugene Lewis’ actions, though “inappropriate,” were in fact “understandable.”
“My feeling is that what we have is a Black man and then his brothers reacting to hundreds of years of history in their state and a history of panic and anger and frustration and rage kicked in, and he started screaming and resisting and bringing up all the events that have taken place across the country where Black men have been murdered basically by police,” he added. “And he started acting totally inappropriately for the situation, but understandably given the history of law enforcement and Blacks colliding in this nation.”
“When I looked at it from that point of view, I saw the sadness in almost the inevitability of something that could go wrong.”
Mississippi Department of Public Safety Commissioner Sean Tindell said in the press release that while the agency does “recognize and respect the right of citizens to observe, and even record, law enforcement officers executing their duties, those rights are not without limitations.”
“As you will see, this event is a prime example of how even a routine traffic stop can quickly turn into a dangerous situation for both citizens and law enforcement officers when subjects resist arrest and when uninvolved persons interfere.”
In the press release, Mississippi Bureau of Investigations Director Lt. Col. Charles Haynes said that there was “no evidence of criminal conduct by the trooper throughout the encounter.”
However, Moore told the Mississippi Free Press that having Eugene Lewis in handcuffs creates a different scenario. “He may have been resisting arrest before he was placed in handcuffs, but once he was placed in handcuffs, the trooper had no right to continually assault or batter him,” he said.
“The individuals that were there had a right to film, and so they had done nothing wrong by filming, and if they saw him beating the man or assaulting the man while he was in handcuffs, they had a right to object.”