Court: US District Court - Southern District of Mississippi
Claim(s): Equal Protection, Unconstitutional Seizure, Excessive Force, First Amendment Retaliation, False Arrest
In August 2022, a recording was leaked of Sam Dobbins—the white Chief of Police of the Lexington, Mississippi Police Department (LPD)—saying “nig***” and “fa**ot,” and telling an LPD officer that he would not care if the officer “killed a motherf**ker in cold blood.”
In the nearly 17-minute recording, Dobbins can be heard telling the officer that he has killed 13 people in his career and even “justified” shooting one man (who Dobbins refers to with a racial slur) 119 times when the man was running away from him. Unaware that the conversation was being recorded, Dobbins is heard relishing the fact that the Lexington community (a community that is 86% Black) “fears” him.
Disturbingly, despite the audio’s release and ensuing national pressure, Lexington’s Board of Aldermen only narrowly voted (3 - 2) to terminate Dobbins. Moreover, in the weeks following Dobbins’ termination, it has become clear that this was a firing in name only, as Dobbins has continued to patrol Lexington in the passenger seat of a police-issued vehicle with an on-duty officer.
While Dobbins’ hateful, violent language in the recording drew national attention, it is only one incident in an ongoing pattern of violent, racist policing in Lexington that runs far deeper. In the last year alone, over 200 Black citizens have formally or informally complained about being harassed, arrested, or fined for baseless reasons.
Over the past year, the Lexington Police Department has begun conducting roadblocks as frequently as multiple times per day in majority Black neighborhoods and outside Black community events, using these as pretext to surveil and harass Black drivers and passengers. Multiple accounts confirm that LPD sets roadblocks near the predominantly-Black Holmes County Central High School anytime the school hosts events but does not conduct roadblocks during activities of the predominantly-White Central Holmes Christian High School. The plaintiffs in this case estimate that in Lexington, a town with an area no larger than 2.5 square miles, LPD has conducted at least 300 roadblocks within the past year.
Harris et. al. v. Dobbins et. al. is a lawsuit filed on behalf of Robert Harris, Darius Harris, Eric Redmond, Malcolm Stewart, and Peter Reeves against Sam Dobbins (former Chief of Police of Lexington, MS), Charles Henderson (Interim Chief of Police of Lexington, MS), the City of Lexington, and the Lexington Police Department.
All of the plaintiffs in this case have experienced harassment, coercion, threatening conduct, and often brutal mistreatment at the hands of the Lexington Police Department, and this suit seeks redress not only for those injustices, but for the ongoing harm they face as a result of continued customs and practices. Black civilians in Lexington are subject to a systemic deprivation of liberty under the Lexington Police Department - a deprivation that cannot continue.
We are asking the court to issue an order granting our clients damages for their injuries and for injunctive relief that:
- Enjoins the defendants from interfering with Black Lexington citizens’ constitutional and civil rights;
- enjoins defendants from interfering with Black Lexington citizens’ peaceful, nonviolent, lawful travel on the public roads and highways in Lexington;
- enjoins defendants from failing to provide adequate police protection for Black Lexington citizens by requiring the City of Lexington to request police support from the State of Mississippi for the purpose of policing LPD;
- requires the City of Lexington to establish an independent civilian complaint review board that has the authority to impose binding disciplinary decisions upon findings that an LPD officer has violated civil rights; and
- requires the City of Lexington and LPD to institute and implement improved policies and programs designed to eliminate LPD’s practice of unreasonably searching and seizing persons and property in the absence of reasonable suspicion or probable cause and on the basis of race, and of conducting false arrests and using unconstitutionally excessive force, and of violating Black citizens of Lexington’s rights to free speech and association, right to travel freely, right to equal protection, and right to due process.