A Lexington, Mississippi attorney warns that small town political and cultural environments could cultivate piles of unreported police abuse. This, after critics demanded Lexington’s embattled police force answer for years of alleged corruption.
The heat cranked up after Lexington Police Department (LPD) officers arrested civil rights attorney Jill Collen Jefferson for filming a police traffic stop. Cops arrested Jefferson, who is also president of civil rights legal group JULIAN, nine days after she complained to U.S. Justice Department officials about the department’s treatment of Black residents. Jefferson’s attorney called her detention a “false arrest,” but not just because filming police interdictions is not illegal.
Police charged Jefferson with three sloppy misdemeanors, including “disorderly conduct,” “failure to comply” and the frequently abused police catch-all: “resisting arrest.” Officers wrote no report explaining the arrest, but Jefferson told Black Girl Times that Lexington police often don’t bother writing definitive narratives documenting police behavior.
“There’s laziness, there’s incompetence, and a lack of training people,” Jefferson said. “In Lexington most of the officers aren’t even certified. They haven’t been to an academy. One (department employee) said agents just brought her in (to work). They didn’t even tell her what her job description was. She didn’t even sign a contract. They just put her out on the street.”
Officer training, Jefferson said, is primarily handled by similarly untrained superiors.
“In these rural places they learn mostly from each other, and this perpetuates this cycle of ignorance,” Jefferson said.
The absence of guidance and professionalism is beginning to show in reports. Data released by the Mississippi Center for Investigative Reporting suggests Lexington police have been deliberately, and clumsily generating city revenue off the backs of Lexington citizens, who are 86% Black and mostly impoverished. Median annual income for the whole county is only about $25,000. The former police chief, who was white, recently got recorded justifying shooting a “nigger 119 times.”
Incompetence often exposes racism, however the racism within the LPD is not primarily white on Black. The LPD is a small force of about 10 officers, and most of them are Black. Jefferson claims the two officers who arrested her were white, but they likely comprise the entirety of the department’s white members.
“Like the Tyre Nichols case, it is mostly Black offers doing these things to Black people,” said Jefferson. “It is still definitely a race thing, but it’s policing against a race, not about the race of the police.”
The Lexington Board of Aldermen voted 3-2 to fire Dobbins after his N-word riddled rant went public, but before his ouster Dobbins made bank pushing his cops to ticket residents for “driving too close” and “disturbing the peace.” Fines and tickets increased threefold during Dobbins’ tenure.
A bumbling department of ignorance and abuse likely led to at least two affidavits being filed against it—one from a member of its own employees. Former Lexington police officer Maytrice Shields claimed in May that the police chief that replaced Dobbins, Charles Henderson, choked her “with both of his hands” for several seconds after first firing her for openly discussing his alleged affair with the wife of one of his officers.
In that same affidavit, Shields claims she witnessed Henderson deleting bodycam footage that incriminated police officers. One of the deleted videos allegedly showed LPD Investigator Jason Jackson yanking a woman from her car and knocking her infant to the pavement. Shields claims she and Henderson had a sexual relationship, but that she ended the affair after she caught him erasing bodycam footage. The breakup prompted retaliation and violence from Henderson, she said. Shields began her job as an LPD officer in December of 2022. By January of 2023—less than two months later—she was allegedly having an affair with the chief and became his assault victim.
Shields claims the rot of sexual abuse within the department starts from the head down, with LPD officers using their badges to press victims into sexual acts. Citations that cops issue to women, she claims, often go missing after male police officers demand and receive sex from ticketed victims.
Another affidavit, filed in May by Goodman resident Shawanda Canady, claims Henderson was no better before he became chief. When he was a police officer with the neighboring town of Goodman, Canady claims Henderson pushed his way into her house, using a bogus arrest warrant, and handcuffed and sexually assaulted her with his fingers.
“This chief of police is a predator,” Jefferson said. “He’s done the same thing in other police departments where he’s worked, and other women have sued him and brought complaints for this same stuff.”
Small town politics and intimacy give cover to predatory and exploitive behavior, however. Your assailant or abuser knows who you are, but also knows your friends and family, and threatening colleagues and relatives with police harassment is an effective deterrent. Additionally, living in a small, intimate town means the entire community knows your every secret, and they can use embarrassing information to discredit your allegations. Jefferson also pointed out that small towns are “news deserts” where professional media is not available to report abuse, allowing corruption to fester for years under the cover of media darkness.
Jefferson’s misdemeanor trial will be in Lexington municipal court on July 13. She told Black Girl Times that if the court finds her liable for legally monitoring police, she will immediately appeal the decision up to Holmes County Circuit Court, and she hopes the battle attracts an army of outrage to an issue that is sorely in need of attention.
“We’re going to fight this thing tooth and nail,” she said.