A lawsuit filed this week by Julian, a civil rights organization based in Mississippi, alleges that the city of Lexington, a predominantly Black rural town, and its police department have harassed and abused Black residents for years.
The Department of Justice launched a “pattern-or-practice investigation” into Lexington in November, examining the city and its police department. Such investigations look for persistent patterns of misconduct or evidence of discriminatory practices.
Julian also filed a federal lawsuit in 2022 against the city after its former police chief Sam Dobbins was caught on tape making several racist comments ― including bragging about shooting a Black suspect 119 times.
This week’s lawsuit alleges the city of Lexington was complicit because the mayor and other officials ignored the misconduct. It alleges that Dobbins threw out police citations against white residents while targeting, arresting, threatening and harassing Black residents. The town’s population of about 1,600 is 80% Black and 18% white, according to the 2020 census.
The lawsuit details allegations from more than a dozen plaintiffs against the current police chief, Charles Henderson. It accuses Henderson of making lewd remarks to women as well as playing a role in encouraging bad policing and discriminatory acts by officers who worked under him.
“Defendant Henderson has authorized the misconduct of LPD officers, employees, and agents, including false arrests, and excessive force and has personally violated Black citizens’ civil rights,” the lawsuit states.
The lawsuit also alleges that Mayor Robin McCrory acted with “deliberate indifference” to allegations made by the many plaintiffs. The lawsuit names several other police officers — Aaron Agee, Justin Newell, Laron Simpson, Chris Burrell, Cordarious Epps, Laron Simpson and Scott Walters — as defendants.
Henderson did not reply to repeated requests for comment, and the police department declined to comment. City officials also did not respond.
“Black Lexingtonians have told civil rights organizations that [they] are afraid to even stop for LPD now when officers pull them over [because] they believe there is a great likelihood that they will be beaten,” the lawsuit says.
Epps said in testimony for the 2022 lawsuit that he could remember “plenty” of times Dobbins threw out white residents’ citations.
“Basically, when we write white people tickets, they get throwed out under the table behind our back,” Epps said in the lawsuit.
From June 27, 2021, to May 17, 2022, officers arrested seven white people and 100 Black people, with more than 40% of the arrests of Black people stemming from minor traffic violations. Additionally, from Aug. 15, 2022, to June 24, 2023, 98% of people arrested and sent to jail were Black and only 1% were white, the lawsuit states.
Dobbins promoted Henderson despite the fact that Henderson was reprimanded for “conduct unbecoming of a police officer” in Canton, Mississippi, before being fired from that police department.
In Lexington, a 60-year-old Black resident, Shirley Gibson, sued Henderson, claiming he used Mace and a Taser on her before she was falsely arrested in 2021. Henderson was never reprimanded for the encounter with Gibson.
Former Lexington police officers named in the lawsuit described Henderson and Dobbins as “partners in crime” whom the Black community complained about nearly daily.
Yolanda Wallace alleged Justin Newell arrested her and inappropriately touched her in June 2023.
“Mrs. Wallace asked him to loosen the cuffs, and Newell became angry, bent down, and put his hands between her legs near her vagina, and pulled her out of the car,” the lawsuit says.
Wallace was not charged, the lawsuit states.
The Justice Department investigation of the police department is ongoing.