Reporting By Brendan Pierson in New York, Editing by Alexia Garamfalvi
JACKSON, Miss. (AP) — Two men — one of whom was shot in the mouth by a law enforcement officer…
JACKSON, Miss. (AP) — Two men — one of whom was shot in the mouth by a law enforcement officer — announced on Tuesday that they will file a federal civil rights lawsuit against a Mississippi sheriff’s department alleging a pattern of excessive force against Black people.
In a news release announcing the lawsuit, attorneys for Michael Corey Jenkins and Eddie Terrell Parker also publicly identified for the first time the deputy who they say put a gun inside Michael Corey Jenkins’ mouth before firing it. Parker confirmed the deputy’s identity in a follow-up interview with The Associated Press on Tuesday.
The upcoming lawsuit comes amid an ongoing Justice Department civil rights investigation into the encounter between Jenkins, Parker and Rankin County Department Sheriff’s deputies in January.
In a news release, Attorney Malik Shabazz said that he would file 22 claims of federal civil rights violations in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Mississippi before Monday. The men will seek $400 million in compensatory and punitive damages.
“If there ever were a case where punitive damages needed to be levied against police officers, this is the case,” attorney Shabazz wrote in the release. “This incredible, nasty, violent ordeal exposes that Rankin County deputies and the Department have had a long pattern and practice of deadly excessive force and hate crimes against its African American citizens.”
A spokesperson for the sheriff’s department and an attorney representing the deputies did not respond to emails and phone calls seeking comment Tuesday.
The Mississippi Bureau of Investigation has confirmed that a deputy shot Jenkins, but the agency has not identified the deputy or released any other details about the case. Jenkins was hospitalized for weeks, and his medical records show he suffered a lacerated tongue and a broken jaw. Deputies have not said whether a weapon was found at the scene.
Jenkins has said he didn’t know the name of the deputy who shot him. Parker, Shabazz and attorney Trent Walker claim it was Deputy Hunter Elward, based partly on a separate court document in which Elward swore that Jenkins had pointed a gun at him. In addition, Parker said he recognized Elward from online photos of the deputy.
Jenkins and Parker said on the night of Jan. 24, six white Rankin County deputies suddenly came into the home where Parker was living and proceeded to handcuff and beat them. They said the deputies shocked them repeatedly with stun guns over roughly 90 minutes and, at one point, forced them to lie on their backs as the deputies poured milk over their faces.
The men also said deputies attempted to assault them with a sex toy they found while searching the home. Jenkins said the encounter culminated with a deputy placing a gun in his mouth and firing.
Deputies said the raid was prompted by a report of drug activity at the home. Jenkins was charged with possessing between 2 and 10 grams of methamphetamine and aggravated assault on a police officer. Parker was charged with two misdemeanors: possession of paraphernalia and disorderly conduct. Deputies have not said whether they obtained a warrant to search the home. The lawsuit will allege deputies illegally entered.
There is no body camera footage of the incident. Automated Taser records obtained by The AP show that Tasers were turned on, turned off or used dozens of times during a roughly 65-minute period before Jenkins was shot.
An AP investigation in March revealed that several Rankin County Sheriff’s Department deputies have been involved in at least four violent encounters with Black men, including the one with Jenkins and Parker, since 2019 that also left two dead. A second man besides Jenkins also alleges that deputies shoved guns into his mouth.
The allegations against the deputies have sparked a Justice Department probe into the encounter. In a community meeting in Mississippi on June 1, Assistant Attorney General Kristen Clarke of the U.S. Department of Justice’s Civil Rights Division said the investigation is still ongoing.
Michael Goldberg is a corps member for the Associated Press/Report for America Statehouse News Initiative. Report for America is a nonprofit national service program that places journalists in local newsrooms to report on undercovered issues. Follow him on Twitter at https://twitter.com/mikergoldberg.
© 2023 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, written or redistributed.
Task force looking at potential changes to Mississippi’s foster care and adoption systems
JACKSON, Miss. (WLBT) – Mississippi is looking for new ways to improve the foster care and adoption systems. It’s an extension of the conversations that started after Roe v. Wade was overturned last year.
Now, a new task force is tackling more specifics.
If you’ve ever been a foster parent or attempted to adopt, you may know about the issues that exist.
“We heard a lot from a lot of different people about how our adoption and foster care systems were working,” explained Sen. Brice Wiggins, co-chairman of the task force. “Well, the reality is they weren’t perfect. And they were far from it.”
The issue is complex but the focus is finding ways to improve outcomes for the children and families.
“Over the last eight years, we’ve decreased the number of children in foster care by over 50%,” noted Mississippi Supreme Court Justice Dawn Beam. “What we know is they do better when we can leave them in their homes.”
Among the considerations would be having an attorney from Child Protection Services follow the case from start to finish and offer a parent representative. That’s something former foster parents say would help.
“I cannot emphasize or overstate the importance of having a representative of CPS in the courtroom, beginning at the shelter hearing, I think we would all be amazed at how this could radically, radically change the timeline in the system,” said Alison McMinn.
It’s conversations like these that advocate and former foster kid Samantha Kalahar is glad stakeholders are tackling.
“I work every day with the youth that are leaving the system,” said Samantha Kalahar, State Director for First Place for Youth. “And so having these types of things, while they’re in the system put into place is so key to their outcomes, not just while they’re in custody, but once they leave custody.”
Other ideas may not take a law change, but they want to give consideration to other time savers. One is an idea from Arkansas to streamline adoptions.
“That’s where a family who’s previously adopted a child and is interested in adopting another one,” described Judge Joseph Kilgore, Chancery Court District 4. “They don’t have to jump through all of the hoops that you would when you’re a first-time adopting parent.”
The task force will turn over its recommendations to the legislature for consideration in the 2024 legislative session.
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US appeals court revives Mississippi law barring convicts from voting
Sept 28 (Reuters) – A federal appeals court on Thursday agreed to reconsider a ruling by three of its judges that struck down part of Mississippi’s state constitution that strips the right to vote from thousands of convicts after they complete their sentences.
The decision by the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals to hold a so-called en banc rehearing of the case before all 16 of its active judges automatically voids, for now, last month’s 2-1 panel ruling finding the provision was a “cruel and unusual punishment” that disproportionately affected Black people.
“We look forward to re-briefing the issues and arguing before the full Fifth Circuit in January,” Jonathan Youngwood, a lawyer for plaintiffs in the class action lawsuit said in an email. “Voting is the cornerstone of our democratic society.”
A spokesperson for the office of Mississippi Attorney General Lynn Fitch did not immediately respond to requests for comment.
The disputed part of the state constitution mandates lifetime disenfranchisement for people convicted of a set of crimes including murder, rape and theft. A group of convicts sued the state in 2018 to regain their right to vote.
U.S. Circuit Judge James Dennis wrote for the majority last month that the provision, which he said was adopted in 1890 after the U.S. Civil War to “ensure the political supremacy of the white race,” violated the U.S. Constitution’s Eighth Amendment, which bars cruel and unusual punishments.
The provision, whose list of disqualifying crimes had been amended twice, remained effective in achieving its “racially discriminatory aim,” Dennis said. Of the nearly 29,000 Mississippians convicted of disenfranchising offenses who had completed their sentences from 1994 to 2017, 58% were Black, he said. According to the 2020 census, just under 38% of Mississippi residents are Black.
Dennis was joined by U.S. Circuit Judge Carolyn Dineen King in reversing a lower-court judge’s ruling. Both are appointees of Democratic presidents on the conservative-leaning court. U.S. Circuit Judge Edith Jones, an appointee of former Republican President Ronald Reagan, was also on the panel and had dissented.
Twelve of the 16 currently active judges on the court were appointed by Republicans.
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Why the police chief from Mississippi’s capital city visited Mobile
The newly appointed police chief and two of top deputies of Mississippi’s largest city visited Mobile on Thursday to examine how Alabama’s Port city is addressing intelligence level policing and community engagement, among other things.
Joseph Wade, police chief in Jackson, Miss., said his agency is looking for “new and innovative ways” to fight crime at a time when the state’s capitol city is battling a high murder rate, and as Mississippi officials face criticism for expanding a state-run police department within the overwhelmingly majority Black city of 146,000 residents.
Wade praised Mobile police for what he said were new approaches at policing, and cited the Alabama agency as one in which his staff could “benefit from visiting.”
“We looked at several different departments and visited the local agencies in Mississippi we felt we could benefit from,” said Wade, a 28-year veteran of the Jackson Police Department who was officially named its police chief last month. I wanted to reach out to an agency comparable with the Jackson Police Department and we targeted Mobile as somewhere we felt that we could benefit from visiting.”
Said Tyrone Buckley, deputy chief with the Jackson agency, about Mobile, “you have a city that is getting it right. We saw some positive things in this city and are looking to see if we can get some information to help us with some of the things we are going through in our city.”
The visit from the Jackson officials comes at a time when Mobile and Jackson continue to struggle in finding enough police recruits to fill opened positions. The two chiefs said that recruitment and officer retention was also a subject they were discussing during their meeting.
Jackson appears to be struggling more than Mobile. Wade said his city was originally budgeted for 304 officers, but the number dropped to 274, after Wade said his officers were granted a pay raise. The agency currently has 238 officers.
Mobile is budgeted for 488 officers. It currently has 425, and Prine said it’s typical for the agency to be “down 50 to 55 officers.”
“Two years ago, we were averaging 70 officers down on the Police Department,” he said. “Slowly, (efforts) on recruitment and retention are working. We have a lot more work to do. It’s becoming more problematic to find those highly qualified individuals to be in law enforcement today in this political climate.”
The visit from Jackson officials also comes as Mobile is experiencing an improvement in violent crime and homicide statistics over the past two years. The improvement comes as Mobile’s population grew by adding 19,789 residents through a July annexation, to a new population of 204,689.
The agency, which saw a spike in violent crime in 2021, was “30 percent down” in the number of homicides so far in 2023, according to Police Chief Paul Prine. So far this year, there have been 23 homicides in Mobile.
Prine said the drop is stark compared to 2021, when there were 51 homicides for the entire year.
“You can see the strategic plan the Mobile Police Department is certainly working,” Prine said.
Related content: Mobile, Birmingham police chiefs blast study showing cities most violent in nation
Comparably, Jackson has 93 homicides during 2023, Wade said.
“We got to work on some type of changing the mindset of the culture of the city and take a strategic approach on addressing crime in the city,” Wade said. “We are looking at a strategic approach in dealing with (gun violence) and collaborative efforts with local, county, state and federal levels. We are looking to see what we can gather (in Mobile) and bring back to Jackson to get our crime situation under control.”
Policing strategies in Mississippi have come under fire this year, creating a rift between the Capitol City that is over 80% Black, and the majority-white Republican-controlled Mississippi state House and Senate.
Jackson is governed by Democrats and has the largest percentage of Black residents of any major U.S. city. Mobile’s demographics, even after annexation, remains majority Black. It was 52% Black, 42% white before the July vote.
The biggest concern in Jackson, according to media reports, appears to be the addition and jurisdictional expansion of the Capitol Police, a state-run policing agency. Republican Mississippi Gov. Tate Reeves signed legislation in April to expand the agency’s boundaries, urging that Jackson “has to be better.”
The move prompted the NAACP to file a lawsuit arguing that state officials violated the principle of self-government by removing policing and some of the courts of out the hands of residents.
Neither Mobile nor any other city in Alabama is faced with a similar situation.
“I’m more of the mindset that we have to have collaborative efforts,” Wade said. “They are policing in my backyard. We have to share information and have dialogues on how we work together. The criminal element does not have about jurisdictional boundaries.”
He added, “When we are feuding in law enforcement, the criminal element is allowed to prosper. We will work collectively as we move forward with the Capitol Police in Jackson.”
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