The city of Lexington has dropped all charges against civil rights attorney Jill Collen Jefferson, who has filed lawsuit against it and its police department for allegedly abusing its Black residents.
Months after Lexington police arrested her, Holmes County Justice Court Judge Marcus Fisher convicted Jefferson in a bench trial of the misdemeanor charges of resisting arrest, disorderly conduct, failure to comply and blocking a public roadway for filming a traffic stop.
She said the decision to drop those charges marks “the end of a challenging chapter characterized by an unjust arrest, fraudulent charges and a sham trial.”
In a statement, she said the experience “has unscored the critical importance of fighting against systemic injustice and advocating for accountability within our criminal justice system.”
Jefferson has filed two lawsuits on behalf of Black residents who accuse the Lexington police of mistreating them, and she complained about the force to the U.S. Department of Justice.
After her Jan. 31 trial, she claimed the outcome was unjust because the judge 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.
Fisher had ordered her to pay $600 in fines, but with the charges dismissed, she will owe nothing.
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 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. He instructed her to get out of 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 then 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 Lexington 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, Jefferson’s legal nonprofit, JULIAN, filed a lawsuit alleging unconstitutional treatment by Lexington police. Jefferson asked for a temporary restraining order, but afederal 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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