Mississippi Center for Justice Applauds U.S. Department of Justice Investigations in Lexington and Rankin County

A Message from Vangela M. Wade, President and CEO at the Mississippi Center for Justice

Under the leadership of Assistant Attorney General Kristen Clarke, last month, the Department of Justice (DOJ) Civil Rights Division declared an investigation into the Lexington Police Department and the City of Lexington. The inquiry aims to ascertain whether there are systemic violations of the Constitution and federal law, placing specific emphasis on the police department’s utilization of force and its practices related to stops, searches, and arrests.

This announcement stems from multiple allegations on behalf of Black residents who have been subjected to excessive force, illegal roadblocks, and false arrests for over a year. If the DOJ ultimately finds a pattern of discrimination in Lexington, the department could move forward with a consent decree.

Consent decrees are a legal instrument utilized in recent years to address civil rights and police misconduct in various communities across the United States. From Ferguson to Baltimore, consent decrees can bring about crucial reforms in police departments and court systems with histories of wrongdoing.

The implementation of a consent decree can have profound effects on a community, fostering increased trust, safer neighborhoods, and a more equitable criminal justice system. Residents gain a voice in the reform process, contributing to a sense of empowerment and community well-being.

In the past six months, the DOJ has taken rapid action to ensure constitutional policing in Mississippi. In August of 2023, the U.S. Department of Justice announced the guilty pleas of six defendants, five former members of the Rankin County Sheriff’s Office (RCSO) and one former officer of the Richland Police Department, in relation to the torture and physical abuse of three Rankin County residents in two separate unrelated incidents. The announcement followed the July 25 visit of Assistant Attorney General Clarke and Former Acting U.S. Attorney Darren LaMarca for the Southern District of Mississippi to Jackson, Mississippi.

Assistant Attorney General Clarke and members of the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division traveled through several cities in Mississippi in July of 2023, reaffirming the department’s commitment to civil rights in the Deep South. On July 25, at Jackson State University, the DOJ hosted a community conversation with AAG Clarke moderated by Vangela M. Wade, President and CEO of the Mississippi Center for Justice. During this event, several family members of the victims voiced their concerns to Assistant Attorney General Clarke, asking the DOJ to look into the events on the night of January 24.

Nine days following the community conversation, the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division announced the guilty pleas of six former Rankin County law enforcement officers. 

As a public interest law firm working to advance equity and justice in Mississippi, we applaud and support the DOJ’s efforts and investigations of law enforcement departments in Lexington and Rankin County, Mississippi. The public, regardless of race and ethnicity, should not have to question whether law enforcement will protect and serve or be instruments of harm and fear in their communities.

Individuals with relevant information can contact the Justice Department via email at Community.LexingtonMS@usdoj.gov or by phone at (833) 610-1232. Individuals can also report civil rights violations regarding this or other matters using the reporting portal of the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division at www.civilrights.justice.gov.  The public is encouraged to call the FBI Jackson Field Office at (601) 948-5000, if you or someone you know has been a victim of abuse by a member of the Rankin County Sheriff’s Office.