Months after her arrest by Lexington police, civil rights attorney Jill Collen Jefferson has been found guilty of resisting arrest, disorderly conduct, failure to comply and blocking a public roadway for filming a traffic stop.
Her Wednesday bench trial in Holmes County Justice Court lasted one day. On Thursday Jefferson said the outcome was unjust because Judge Marcus Fisher did not consider evidence presented during the trial, including an affidavit from a former Lexington police officer who had knowledge that Jefferson’s arrest was planned and targeted in response to her legal work.
“Despite an investigation by the Department of Justice along with multiple lawsuits filed against the Lexington Police Department, we continue to see a troubling and persistent level of harassment and abuse by the City of Lexington,” she said in a Thursday statement.
About a week before Jefferson’s arrest, Assistant Attorney General Kristen Clarke came to Lexington to hear concerns from residents and Jefferson about the local police department. In November 2023, the DOJ launched an investigation into the city and Lexington police.
Jefferson, who plans to appeal in the Holmes County Circuit Court, was ordered to pay $600 in fines for the four misdemeanor charges. She could have faced a maximum $500 fine and six months in the county jail for each charge.
Jefferson said Thursday that minutes before her trial, she and her attorney realized that she had two additional misdemeanor charges listed on her charging document that weren’t initially there: operating a cellphone while driving and blocking a public road.
The charge of operating a cellphone while driving was dismissed, but the blocking a public road charge was not, she said.
“There is strong evidence that the Lexington Police Department has strategically targeted me for standing up for the residents of Lexington,” Jefferson said. “This incident is representative of the harassment and injustice that Black residents of Lexington continue to suffer. We will not stop our fight for justice. If anything, this adds fuel to the fire.”
She was arrested June 10, 2023, while filming a traffic stop from her car on a public street. An officer asked for her identification, which she gave. Jefferson was told to get out of the car, which she refused. The officer pulled her out and arrested her, said Michael Carr, her attorney.
Jefferson spent the weekend in the Holmes County jail. Her attorney had reached Police Chief Charles Henderson, who agreed to release her without bond, but she refused to pay a $35 processing fee because she said her arrest was unlawful and because people in Lexington can’t afford to pay the fee.
About a year earlier, the Mississippi Center for Investigative Reporting broke the story about former police Chief Sam Dobbins, who is white, bragging on an audio recording about killing 13 people in the line of duty, including how he shot one Black man 119 times.
A day later, the City Council fired Dobbins and Henderson, who is Black, became chief. Jefferson and other residents said the harassment of Black residents has continued.
In response, JULIAN filed a lawsuit alleging unconstitutional treatment by Lexington police. Jefferson asked for a temporary restraining order, but a federal judge declined. The lawsuit is still active.
In January, JULIAN filed another suit in federal court against the police department and city for continued harassment of its Black residents. It includes over 20 plaintiffs and accounts from former Lexington officers.
Other attorneys and legal groups are also pursuing action against Lexington.
The ACLU of Mississippi filed a lawsuit in federal court against Lexington police and city officials in August 2023 on behalf of a former Jackson Public Schools resource officer over his unlawful arrest and jailing after attending a New Year’s Eve celebration.
Another civil rights attorney, Malik Shabazz, who is representing two Black men who were beaten by a group of Rankin County sheriff’s deputies and a local police officer in 2023, traveled to Lexington in August 2022 to call for an investigation into the Lexington police and charges for Dobbins.
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