The lawsuit claims that the Lexington Police Department has waged years-long campaign of terror against the small, predominately Black town.
The Black residents of a small Mississippi town have filed a lawsuit against the Lexington Police Department, claiming that local law enforcement officers have waged a protracted campaign of “terror” against racial minorities.
According to The Associated Press, the lawsuit, filed by civil rights organization JULIAN, seeks a temporary restraining order against the Lexington Police Department.
The lawsuit lists as plaintiffs five Black men who claim to have experienced retaliation, arrest, and systematic mistreatment at the hands of Lexington police and its ousted former chief, Sam Dobbins.
While the lawsuit only lists five plaintiffs, Mississippi Today states that over 200 other citizens of the majority-Black town have registered formal and informal complaints about police misconduct.
“Lexington Police Department operates within a culture of corruption and lawlessness, daily and habitually subjecting Black citizens to targeting, harassment and brutality, including violence, in violation of their constitutional rights,” the lawsuit alleges.
Lexington, notes The Associated Press, is a small town about 63 miles north of the state capital of Jackson.
“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,” Julian President and founder Jill Collen said in a statement. “We need both the courts and the Department of Justice to step in immediately.”
Charles Henderson, the town’s interim police chief, suggested that the lawsuit’s claims should not be taken at face value.
“I’m working on moving the Lexington Police Department forward,” Henderson told The Associated Press. “I will say—don’t buy into everything you hear. This is defamation of character.”
However, the lawsuit was only filed after JULIAN allegedly obtained an audio recording of former Lexington Police Chief Sam Dobbins using racial slurs while discussing how many people he had killed in the line of duty.
“Justified, bro,” the voice believed to be Dobbins can be heard saying in the recording. “I shot that [n-word] 119 times, okay?”
“I don’t give a f— if you kill a motherf—er in cold blood,” Dobbins purportedly said in another portion of the tape.
Robert Lee Hooker, a Black police officer who has since resigned from the Lexington Police Department, told both JULIAN and The Associated Press that he made and disseminated the recording.
Less than a day after the recording was made public, the Lexington Board of Aldermen fired Dobbins in a split 3-2 vote before nominating Henderson as the interim chief.
Henderson, adds The Associated Press, is Black, whereas Dobbins is White.
Nevertheless, the lawsuit asserts that Henderson, too, is not a capable or appropriate replacement—according to JULIAN’s attorneys, Henderson had previously assaulted a tow truck driver who had been called to remove an automobile of Peter Reeves, a local man who Henderson had arrested and charged with the misdemeanor offenses of driving without insurance and having an illegal window tint.
The 70-year-old tow truck driver told The Associated Press that Henderson “slammed” him against Reeves’ truck following a disagreement about whether the vehicle could be immediately returned to Reeves’ home.
Reeves corroborated the tow truck driver’s account, telling The A.P. that Henderson “choked” the driver and lifted him off the ground.
“I mean, this guy is off his feet,” Reeves said. “I saw it with my own eyes.”
Dobbins, for his part, has since denied uttering any slurs.
However, the sheriff of an adjacent county told The A.P. that he worked with Dobbins for two years and has “no doubt” that Dobbins is the person audible on the recording.