The families of Nelson Watkins and Kimbella (Raheem) Kimbell have accused the Gulfport Police Department and the Harrison County Adult Detention Center of severe human-rights violations and abuse. Both families are left with many unanswered questions involving police treatment of their children.
The death of 20-year-old Gulfport resident Kimbella, a Black trans woman, shook the Gulf Coast community. I received a Facebook live video feed on Sept. 6, 2022, of Gulfport police officers tasing Kimbella inside Singing River Hospital.
Kimbella was suffering from COVID-19-related symptoms and needed medical treatment. She allegedly became combative, causing law enforcement to intervene. The video shows Kimbella fighting off three to four officers as they tase her several times before placing her in the prone position with their knees on her back and chest area. Kimbella is heard on the video pleading with law enforcement officers, saying, “I can’t f— breathe.”
Tijuana Kimbell, Kimbella’s mother, stated that Gulfport police took her daughter to the Harrison County Detention Center and placed her in the male population. Detention officials said Kimbella and a male inmate then got into a fight, leaving Kimbella with severe injuries and leading correctional officers to place her in solitary confinement. Kimbella was found dead hours later.
Kimbell and her family held a peaceful protest at Singing River Hospital For Kimbella in Gulfport on Sept. 15, 2022. The family hopes to bring awareness to what they call brutal treatment by Gulfport police officers before Kimbella’s time at the Harrison County Adult Detention Center. I witnessed the pain and anguish on the faces of grieving family members as they mourned her loss. I reached out to Lt. Robert Lincoln of the Harrison County Adult Detention Center for comment about the family’s allegations and have not received a response.
Kimbell said detention-center officials were “not transparent” regarding the cause of her child’s death. The mother and her family have raised more than $7,800 for a second autopsy. Kimbell is waiting on the results from the second autopsy before moving forward. Kimbella’s family is still struggling to find answers to the cause of her death.
Targeting Mentally Challenged Adults
Steven Harris of 2nd Chance Initiative MS Now, LLC, in Jackson contacted me last fall and said that he was organizing a protest on Sept. 17, 2022, from 1 p.m. to 3 p.m. at Jones Park to bring awareness to a mentally unstable Gulfport resident named Nelson Walker. “Nelson has been in solitary confinement at the Harrison County Adult detention center for over a year without any contact with his family,” Harris shared.
At the protest, I interviewed his mother Cecilia Gipson and other members of Nelson’s family. She confirmed that Walker has been held in solitary confinement and that she has not been allowed to see or speak to her son. “We have had no contact with Nelson in over a year,” Gipson said. Steven Harris spoke about the treatment that mentally challenged Black men and women experience in the Harrison County Adult Detention Center.
The U.S. Justice Department filed a complaint against the State of Mississippi in August 2016, alleging failure to provide mentally ill adults with integrated, community-based mental-health care in violation of the Americans with Disabilities Act and Civil Rights of Institutionalized Persons Act.
The U.S. Department of Justice conducted a comprehensive investigation in December 2011 and found that the Mississippi system for serving individuals with mental-health disabilities violates the ADA. The department found that the State unnecessarily institutionalized adults and children with disabilities and failed to ensure that they have access to necessary services and support in the community.
Harris told those in attendance that he is planning to file a civil-rights complaint against the detention center on behalf of Nelson Walker with the U.S. Department of Justice to force the center to “commit or release” Walker. Walker’s mother said her son was charged with simple assault and robbery in 2021. She also said that Judge Lisa Dotson ordered a psychiatric evaluation of Walker—without his mother’s knowledge or consent—and placed him in solitary confinement in June 2021.
Gipson of Lucedale, Miss., said she has not heard anything from Nelson and doesn’t have access to his evaluation records. “I’m worried about his mental condition,” she said, while holding a picture of Nelson in a black frame.
Local residents gave testimonials about the harsh treatment and negligence that goes on in the detention center. Community members have accused Judge Lisa Dotson and public defenders of colluding to hand out tough sentences while turning a blind eye to misconduct within the detention facility.
Judge Dotson is no longer presiding over Walker’s case. I contacted the public defender’s office in Gulfport regarding Walker’s case and left a voicemail for a response to his family’s allegations. No one from the public defender’s office has responded as of press time.
MBI’s Involvement With Police
The Mississippi Bureau of Investigation is currently conducting the investigation into the shooting death of 42-year-old Mabel Arrington. The Mississippi Alliance For Public Safety put out a press release on Wednesday, Aug. 24, 2022, requesting body-camera footage from Biloxi Police Department Chief John Miller.
Conflicting accounts describe how Arrington died. Eyewitnesses and family members state that the officer chased Arrington inside of her home after responding to a domestic dispute between Arrington and another unidentified woman.
The BPD said in initial reports that Arrington was carrying a knife. Family members say she ran into the home when the officer gave chase. The officer allegedly pursued Arrington inside of the home where she was shot five times in front of her children. Harrison County Coroner Brian Switzer contradicted the family’s accusations.
Switzer told Margaret Baker of the Sun Herald that Arrington was shot multiple times outside the home. I reached out to the coroner’s office to get a statement from Switzer, but he was unavailable for a comment.
The MBI’s involvement in cases related to police shooting and other violent actions, which repeatedly cause delays in facts being released to the public including names of officers who kill Mississippians, have raised concerns in the Black community. Many families panic after witnessing the deaths of their loved ones at the hands of law-enforcement officers without recourse or adequate information. The Department of Justice ended a federal oversight of the Harrison County Adult Detention Center in 2015 after receiving allegations of inhuman treatment and violent murders of several inmates.
These circumstances have raised questions among community organizers and faith-based organizations across the country regarding the lack of transparency from law-enforcement agencies in cases that involve accusations of police violence and misconduct.
‘I’m Tired, Mississippi’
A Gulfport police officer also shot and killed 15-year-old Jaheim McMillan at a Family Dollar on Pass Road on Oct. 5, 2022. I spoke with Jacob Blake Sr., one of the guest speakers at McMillan’s funeral service. In 2020, the police in Kenosha, Wis., fired seven rounds and paralyzed his son Jacob Blake Jr., just three months after the death of George Floyd. At the time of the shooting, three of Blake’s sons were in the car.
“I’m tired, Mississippi,” Blake Sr. said at the opening of his speech. He later told me, “I’m tired of telling my 14-year-old why we still have to fight.”
The MBI took over the McMillan case immediately after the shooting. Its initial report did not state a reason or give any details of events that led to McMillan’s death. Mississippi Code Annotated §25-61-12 and Mississippi Code Annotated §25-61-3(f) states that investigative material—body cam, dash cam, written reports, etc., in an ongoing investigation—is exempt from public record. And once MBI takes over a police shooting case, the details are hidden from the public while the agency says the case is still under investigation, making accountability difficult.
The lack of federal oversight of Mississippi’s criminal-justice system has left Black communities at the mercy of the MBI’s interpretation of the definition of the Mississippi Public Records Act.
Section 2(a) clearly states the following:
“(a) When in the possession of a law enforcement agency, investigative reports shall be exempt from the provisions of this chapter; however, a law enforcement agency, in its discretion, may choose to make public all or any part of any investigative report.”
The Mississippi Legislature amended section 45-1-2 of House Bill 620 in the 2022 regular session in response to public outcry, and a 2018 Jackson Free Press editorial that called for investigative records regarding officer-involved shootings to be made public within 72 hours. Senate Bill 2543 currently gives Attorney General Lynn Fitch the sole authority to present MBI’s investigative records regarding all police-involved shootings to a closed grand jury.
Black Mississippians have had a long, sordid history with police and targeted race violence against their communities, including incarcerated individuals. This negatively affects their families and the entire community as a whole, as well as trust in law enforcement. Tensions between local police officers and panicked residents in these communities have created an unrest like never before.
Local law-enforcement agencies have the discretion to provide transparency to ensure the public’s safety. They simply choose not to.
This MFP Voices essay does not necessarily represent the views of the Mississippi Journalism and Education Group, the Mississippi Free Press, its staff or board members. To submit an opinion for the MFP Voices section, send up to 1,200 words of fact-checked information to email@example.com. We welcome a wide variety of viewpoints.