JACKSON, Miss.—The Capitol Police, run by the State of Mississippi, will have jurisdiction over all of the capital city if Mississippi Senate Bill 2343 becomes law. The legislation would grant currently all-white state officials control over policing in the 82% Black capital city of the 38% Black state. The Capitol Police would work alongside locally elected law enforcement officials.
The bill scaled another hurdle after the Senate passed it Wednesday evening in a 36-14 vote.
The Mississippi Legislature created the Capitol Complex Improvement District in 2017 to fund infrastructure projects surrounding the Capitol Building. In 2021, the Legislature created the Capitol Police force and transferred authority over the Capitol Police, which once only guarded State buildings, to the Mississippi Department of Public Safety. That legislation transformed the Capitol Police into a conventional police force that covers the entire CCID.
City of Jackson Communications Director Melissa Payne told the Mississippi Free Press by phone on Feb. 10 that Mayor Chokwe A. Lumumba “is not available for comment” on the proposed law, “so we are not going to comment right now.”
The bill’s sponsor, Sen. Joey Fillingane, R-Sumrall, said on the Mississippi Senate floor on Feb. 8 that the capitol police would “supplement” the Jackson Police Department, which the bill would require to enter into a memorandum of understanding with the Mississippi Department of Public Safety by Jan. 30, 2024.
Under S.B. 2343, the Capitol Police “shall have jurisdiction relative to the enforcement of all laws of the state of Mississippi within the boundaries of the City of Jackson, Mississippi.” It requires “the department of public safety and the city of Jackson to enter into a memorandum of understanding” by Jan. 30, 2024. “So the JDP will still get all of the primary calls; if they need assistance outside of this current CCID, this bill will allow” the Capitol Police to go beyond the CCID limits, Fillingane said on Feb. 8.
‘I Try To Stay In My Lane’
Since the Capitol Police began operations in 2022, the capitol police officers have shot at least four people in Jackson. Jaylen Lewis died following one of those shootings in October 2022. The Department of Public Safety said the incident happened at a traffic stop.
Little information is available about those shootings, however, because the Mississippi Bureau of Investigations investigates all officer-involved shootings and does not typically provide details to the public.
“That is our policy in conducting officer-involved shootings—the officers’ names are not released,” Mississippi Bureau of Investigation officer Major LeCarus D. Oliver told the Mississippi Free Press in August 2022.
“As the investigation progresses through the criminal-justice system, if there’s an indictment returned against the involved officers, at that point, their information will be released,” Oliver added.
On the Senate floor on Feb. 8, Mississippi Sen. John Horhn, D-Jackson, asked Filligane if the State would provide assistance for the City of Jackson to house an increased number of arrestees if the bill becomes law. Hinds County has long faced problems of poor facilities and detained individuals waiting months and years before going to trial.
“Well, if we’re going to give folks more territory and they make more arrests, we’ve got to have someplace to put them, wouldn’t you agree?” Horhn asked.
“Yes, sir,” Fillingane responded.
“So then we may be compounding a problem that already exists if we don’t make some sort of arrangements on space for the arrestees,” he added. “So is the State planning to offer, as far as you know, any support on helping to provide facilities to house arrests, either a misdemeanor or felony arrest?”
“That’s not my purview; I try to stay in my lane,” Fillingane responded.
Mississippi Sen. John A. Polk, R-Hattiesburg, later explained that, in 2022, lawmakers passed a bill allowing Capitol Police to take individuals they arrest “to any county jail in Mississippi.” The law says that the “Department of Public Safety is authorized to enter into a contract with any county for the county to take custody of the misdemeanor offender arrested under the authority granted under this section.” That law did not include any mention of what to do with felony arrestees.
The City of Jackson has been working with the Hinds County Board of Supervisors to prepare a misdemeanor holding facility for those accused of low-level crimes who cannot afford bail.
Department of Public Safety Public Relations Director Bailey Martin told the Mississippi Free Press on Feb. 9 that the “majority of Capitol Police arrestees are taken to the Hinds County Detention Center in Raymond, Mississippi.”
“There have been a few instances where some were taken to Rankin County jail due to overcrowding,” she added.
Brandon Flowers, 35, died at the Hinds County Raymond Detention Center on Feb. 6, Hinds County Sheriff Tyree Jones announced last week. Flowers had been in the facility for 18 months awaiting trial for capital murder before his death. Those in county jails are legally innocent until proven otherwise in court but have long been forced to wait many months and often years in jail before going to trial.
The Hinds County Detention Center was under a consent decree from 2016 to 2022 over dangerous conditions there. In December 2022, the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in New Orleans halted a federal district judge’s order for receivership of the facility.
Fillingane said Department of Public Safety Commissioner Sean Tindell proposed an increase in the number of Capitol Police officers from 115 to 170 for the new jurisdictional scope S.B. 2343 would provide. The Legislature has already appropriated funding, expanding the force’s size to 150.
“(Tindell) thinks an additional 25 officers on top of the ones that have already been authorized is the goal of what he’ll be asking for in the new appropriation process,” Fillingane said on the Senate floor on Feb. 8.
“So you have several agencies that cover this space within the city of Jackson; you have Hinds County, which the city of Jackson is a part of,” Fillingane added. “You have, of course, JPD and all of their resources, and with this expansion, you’ll also be able to help supplement with the Capitol Police Force.”
‘Big Government and Systemic Racism’
Fillangane’s legislation is related to the still-alive House Bill 1020, which would create a court system to handle cases in the capitol district with judges and prosecutors chosen by the currently all-white cast of state officials. critics have noted that the bill would take power away from the locally elected prosecutor and judges in majority-Black Hinds County.
Republican leaders have also advanced Senate Bill 2889, which would establish the Mississippi Capitol Region Utility Act. If it became law, the bill would create a regional utility to take over operations of Jackson’s water, sewage, and stormwater systems after the federal court-appointed interim manager’s work ends.
Mississippi House Minority Leader Rep. Robert L. Johnson III, D-Natchez, and Mississippi Senate Minority Leader Sen. Derrick T. Simmons, D-Greenville, posted a joint statement on Twitter that referred to both House Bill 1020 and Senate Bill 2889 as being parts of an “attempted takeover disguised as concern for our citizens.”
“There’s an obvious pattern to all of this. Ignore our requests for support. Create a commission or hold a hearing during which someone tells them what we’ve been saying for years, and they pretend they’re hearing it for the first time. Continue to ignore what resources are needed,” the statement said.
“Plan a takeover and blame it, reluctantly, on local incompetence,” they continued. “Say ‘we’re just trying to do what’s best!’ Insist this isn’t about race, beg not to be called a racist. Rinse, repeat. Regardless of the issue, it all leads back to money. Money is where it starts and it ends: from money to jobs to assets to property. This is about the devaluation of Black assets and Black people and Black well-being and Black lives.”
Shuwaski Young, a Democrat who is running for Mississippi secretary of state, similarly condemned H.B. 1020 in a statement on Sunday.
“House Bill 1020 represents a stunningly brazen example of big government and systemic racism against the people of Jackson, Mississippi,” he said. “The right to vote in Mississippi should not shrink or expand based on which city or county our citizens choose to call home.”
The sponsor for H.B. 1020, Rep. Trey Lamar, R-Senatobia, defended the bill during debate on the House floor on Feb. 7, 2023.
“This bill is designed to help make our capital city of Mississippi a safer city,” Lamar said. “This bill is designed to assist the court system of Hinds County, not to hinder it. It’s designed to add to our judicial resources in Hinds County, not to take away—to help and not hurt.”