JULIAN, a civil rights legal advocacy organization, has sued officials in Lexington, Miss., including the City of Lexington, the Lexington Police Department, the interim chief of police and the former chief of police, in federal court to demand protection for Lexington’s largely Black population from the very police department that ostensibly exists to keep them safe but in reality has terrorized residents.
The suit (linked here) requests damages, following the recent firing of the Lexington police chief after an audio recording surfaced of his remarks filled with racist and homophobic epithets and in which he brags of multiple killings in the line of duty.
JULIAN is also calling for a federal investigation of systemic, condoned racism in both the police department and in Lexington’s municipal government as a whole. Former Police Chief Sam Dobbins was fired by a three-to-two vote by the city’s Board of Aldermen after the recording was made public in July, meaning that 40 percent of the governing body favored keeping Dobbins in his position. The lawsuit details examples of police violence and misconduct against Black residents, and highlights a pattern and culture of racism in the police department that requires further investigation and accountability. Community members have already expressed significant opposition to and concern about the appointment of interim chief, Charles Henderson, who is a protégé of Dobbins and has an equally troubling reputation.
“It’s both unconscionable and illegal for Lexington residents to be terrorized and live in fear of the police department whose job is to protect them,” said Jill Collen Jefferson, president and founder of JULIAN.
“We need both the courts and the Department of Justice to step in immediately.”
JULIAN filed its suit in United States District Court for the Southern District of Mississippi, requesting that the court issue a temporary restraining order against Lexington’s police department and enjoin officers from “threatening, coercing, harassing, assaulting or interfering” with Lexington citizens’ constitutional right to travel freely, their right to free speech under the First Amendment, their right to equal protection under the Fourteenth Amendment, and their right be free of false arrests and excessive force under the Fourth Amendment of the U.S. Constitution.
The inspiration for this suit comes from Attorney Fred Gray who filed a similar complaint, Williams v. Wallace, in U.S. district court in Alabama in 1965 after Alabama officers assaulted civil rights marchers, including John Lewis, Hosea Williams, and Amelia Boynton, on Bloody Sunday. Fred Gray is one of the most prominent civil rights attorneys in U.S. history and was recently awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom by President Joe Biden.
Of Lexington’s approximately 1,800 people, about 1,500, or 85 percent, are Black. In the recording, Dobbins brags of having killed 13 people and uses the n-word repeatedly, including to describe someone he states he shot 119 times. The conversation was recorded by a Black officer who has since resigned from the department and gave the audio to JULIAN.
In the recording, Dobbins describes a shootout in a cornfield. “Justified, bro’,” he said.
“I shot that n—– 119 times, OK?” The expletive-laden recording also includes this statement:
“I don’t talk to f—ing queers, I don’t talk to f—ing fa——s.”
“These people are putting their lives on the line. This is a small town. Residents know they can be targeted if they file a complaint, that the cops can come for them — and will,” added Jefferson.
“The bravery and strength of this community, in the face of racist intimidation, is inspiring and makes us proud to advocate for the better future that they deserve.”
Tasha Walden, a former Lexington resident, said that the endless Lexington police harassment of her family, led by Sam Dobbins, drove her to move to Memphis, Tenn.
“He made my and my son’s lives a living hell. He wrote me baseless tickets and made repeated excuses to arrest my son without a warrant. I had to get help to put my son in a safe place so no harm came to him,” Walden said.
“I had to move him out of state to keep him protected from Sam Dobbins and the police working with him.”
Sherri Reeves said that the Lexington police detained her son without cause and tried to charge him with a felony for finding him with a prescription bottle of acetaminophen (the active drug in Tylenol); they ended up charging him with a misdemeanor for having no auto insurance and an illegal window tint on his car.
“The police assaulted and manhandled the tow truck driver because he told me that the police could release the car to me. He had scars and bruises. My son was scared out of his wits,” Reeves said.
“Dobbins and the police preyed on a host of people without remorse. This is just something they do everyday. With everything going on in the world, this was terrifying.”