Justice Department announces investigation of Mississippi police department
By The Citizen on November 8, 2023
The Department of Justice on Wednesday announced a civil rights investigation into the Lexington, Miss., police department after allegations of misconduct and civil rights violations.
The Justice Department will determine whether the police department has a practice of using excessive force, violating people’s civil and constitutional rights — including their right to free speech — and whether the department engages in discriminatory policing.
“The Justice Department is committed to protecting the constitutional rights of all Americans, whether they live in small towns or big cities,” said Kristen Clarke, assistant attorney general of the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division.
“Residents of rural and underserved communities have the same rights and deserve the same protection as people who live in downtown Baltimore or the suburbs of Louisville,” she continued. “Police misconduct in smaller communities may not always garner national attention but rest assured the Justice Department is watching. No city, no town, no law enforcement agency is too big or too small to evade our enforcement of constitutional rights.”
The investigation comes after six former police officers in nearby Rankin County pleaded guilty in August to a racist assault on two Black men that ended with an officer shooting one of the men in the mouth.
Lexington, a community of about 1,600 residents, has a police department with fewer than 10 officers.
Clarke said there have been allegations Lexington police officers have stopped, searched and arrested people without justification and used force against people who did not pose a threat to officers.
There are also reports officers used illegal roadblocks targeting Black drivers. About 86 percent of Lexington’s population is Black, and the city has a poverty rate near 30 percent.
Officers have also allegedly retaliated against people questioning or recording police activity and have routinely arrested people for using profanity, a violation of the First Amendment.
“Community members have offered troubling accounts of how these alleged practices have affected their lives, of injuries caused by gratuitous and excessive force, of alleged sexual assault and of repression and reprisal,” Clarke said.
The DOJ will now review incident reports, body camera footage and the police department’s policies and training materials, as well as other internal documents, to understand how the department operates.
The DOJ also plans to meet with police officers and observe them during their shifts and will speak with community members to hear more experiences.
Lexington officials have promised to cooperate with the investigation, the Justice Department said.
The Special Litigation Section of the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division and the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Southern District of Mississippi will conduct the investigation together.
If a pattern or practice of violations is found, Clarke said, the DOJ will try to work with the City of Lexington and the Lexington Police Department to enact changes. If an agreement on changes cannot be met, she added, the Justice Department is authorized to bring a civil lawsuit seeking injunctive relief to address violations.
“We want the community to know that we see you, we hear you and we will stand up for you,” Clarke said.