Allegations of Torture May Result in Mississippi Facing a Civil Rights Lawsuit

As part of The Times’s Local Investigations Fellowship, Brian Howey and Nate Rosenfield are delving into the influence wielded by sheriffs’ offices in Mississippi.

Federal prosecutors are expanding their investigation into the Rankin County sheriff’s department for potential civil rights violations, which could result in federal monitoring. This comes more than two months after deputies were sentenced for torturing two Black men in central Mississippi. The serious escalation indicates the severity of the situation and the importance of holding law enforcement accountable for their actions.

During a meeting last month, Todd Gee, the U.S. attorney for the Southern District of Mississippi, encouraged local residents to report any incidents of violence or discrimination perpetuated by deputies. Gee discussed the possibility of such occurrences and urged those who had experienced them to come forward.

Over 50 individuals, comprising of defense attorneys and civil rights advocates, gathered at a library near Jackson, Mississippi. During the meeting, which was not open to the media, attendees recounted instances of being harassed or wrongly charged with criminal offenses by deputies.

According to video footage obtained by reporters, Mr. Gee emphasized the importance of information provided by individuals such as the attendees, stating that it could have a significant impact.

According to him, a longstanding history of misconduct among deputies could serve as proof of a pattern of civil rights violations. This, in turn, could potentially result in legal action being taken against the department.

Instead of solely investigating individual instances of misconduct, “pattern or practice” inquiries aim to uncover whether civil rights violations have become ingrained in an agency’s overall culture. Legal authorities can take action against a department by filing a lawsuit and requesting a consent decree, which is a legally binding agreement that mandates the implementation of reforms within the department.

In the fall of last year, The New York Times and Mississippi Today conducted an inquiry that uncovered nearly twenty individuals who had undergone comparable acts of violence when deputies from Rankin County raided their homes under the suspicion of possessing illegal drugs.

Despite facing calls for his resignation from the local chapter of the N.A.A.C.P. and other members of the community, Sheriff Bryan Bailey of Rankin County, who has been leading the department since 2012, has made a commitment to stay in office.

Despite requests for comment on the federal investigation, department officials have remained silent. Sheriff Bailey, on the other hand, has denied any knowledge of his deputies’ history of violence spanning decades.

During the community meeting, a few residents raised their concerns about the lack of accountability for the sheriff.

As per Dr. Ava Harvey, a local pastor who was present at the meeting, there was a clear sense of frustration among the attendees. She emphasized that trust has been broken, and something must be done to address the situation.

As they readied lawsuits against police departments for civil rights violations, federal prosecutors convened similar gatherings in various cities throughout the country. Meetings were held in Minneapolis following the death of George Floyd at the hands of a police officer and in Ferguson, Missouri, after an officer shot and killed Michael Brown, an unarmed Black teenager.

Minneapolis’ consent decree mandates that officers employ de-escalation strategies whenever feasible, restricts the use of tear gas in protests, and forbids officers from stopping motorists for broken taillights. Meanwhile, in Ferguson, the police department must curtail the use of force and put an end to discriminatory policing as per their new requirements.

The Justice Department representatives have opted to remain silent regarding their investigation in Mississippi, as well as the community meeting.

As the coordinator of the meeting, Angela English, President of the Rankin County chapter of the N.A.A.C.P., revealed that the prosecutors requested those who preferred to keep their stories confidential to speak with investigators in private. She added that the U.S. attorney’s office intends to conduct more meetings, but gaining the community’s trust is still a work in progress for the prosecutors.

She expressed that many individuals are still fearful of the potential consequences that might befall their families if they speak out. She stated that while individuals like Bryan Bailey remain in power, and given that this incident occurred under his watch, doubts and mistrust will persist.

Two weeks ago, The Times and Mississippi Today received a statement from the Rankin County sheriff’s department, where they mentioned conducting an internal review of their deputies.

Numerous individuals have reported that they have lodged complaints or personally informed Sheriff Bailey about the mistreatment they have endured, yet they claim to have been disregarded.

In the past few months, four individuals who were present during an alleged incident of officer torture have left the department. Besides the deputies who received sentences, three were fired due to their non-cooperation with the internal investigation, while one resigned without any objections. According to the records of the Mississippi Department of Public Safety, another deputy resigned in December to dodge termination after violating department policies and procedures. The officials of the Sheriff’s department have not yet commented on the reasons behind the departure of these deputies.

According to representatives from the department, Sheriff Bailey had no knowledge of the private group chat.

In a statement released by the department, officials expressed their confidence in the proper conduct of their current employees while serving the citizens of Rankin County.

Over the past few months, an increasing number of local residents have been speaking out to the media, alleging that they were subjected to abuse by deputies. Furthermore, the department has been hit with at least three federal lawsuits accusing its deputies of employing excessive force against individuals while they were in detention or were being arrested.

Christopher Mack filed a lawsuit against the department two weeks ago, alleging that in 2021, deputies beat him for 45 minutes at the county jail. This happened after he refused to share information about drugs and gangs with the deputies.

During an interview, Mr. Mack revealed that a group of jail inmates aided the deputies in the assault. According to him, pictures taken right after the incident display his bruised back and blackened eyes. He stated that there were red marks on his forehead and nose, which were the result of a deputy’s boot imprint. Furthermore, he was hospitalized and treated for a broken rib.

According to Mr. Mack, the incident has had a lasting impact on his mental well-being. He shared that he has been diagnosed with an anger disorder that is often associated with trauma and now takes epilepsy medication to manage seizures. He admitted that the incident still mentally affects him on a daily basis, causing him to feel constantly angry.

Following the attack, Sheriff Bailey inquired about the identity of the assailant from Mr. Mack. However, upon learning that it was his own deputies who had beaten him, Sheriff Bailey reacted by cursing and storming off.

Despite being requested to comment on the lawsuit, the department has remained unresponsive.

According to Ms. English, locals have previously approached the local chapter of the N.A.A.C.P. to report the behavior of the deputies. However, many were too afraid to take any action. But as more residents step forward, Ms. English said that it has emboldened others in the community to speak out.

She stated that individuals have grown weary of it and have decided that it won’t be permitted to occur any longer.

Reference Article

Avatar photo
MBS Staff
Articles: 7526

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *