The Justice Department announced today that it has opened a civil pattern or practice investigation into the City of Lexington, Mississippi, and the Lexington Police Department (LPD). Lexington is a town of approximately 1,600 people, located about an hour outside of the state’s capitol in Jackson, Mississippi.
The investigation will seek to determine whether there are systemic violations of the Constitution and federal law. The investigation will focus on the police department’s use of force and its stops, searches and arrests. It will assess whether those activities are reasonable, non-discriminatory and respect the right to engage in speech and conduct protected by the First Amendment. The investigation will include a comprehensive review of LPD policies, training and supervision, practices for the collection of fines and fees and systems of accountability.
“No city, no town and no law enforcement agency is too large or too small to evade our enforcement of the constitutional rights every American enjoys,” said Assistant Attorney General Kristen Clarke of the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division. “We are opening this investigation to determine whether the Lexington Police Department engages in a pattern or practice of discriminatory policing, excessive force or First Amendment violations. This investigation should send a clear message to small and mid-size police departments that they are not exempt from the obligation to provide fair, effective and non-discriminatory policing. We will leave no community behind, including underserved regions in the Deep South, in our quest to ensure lawful and constitutional policing in America.”
“Police officers are trusted with the important duty to keep our communities safe. When police officers fail to respect constitutional rights, they violate that trust,” said U.S. Attorney Todd W. Gee for the Southern District of Mississippi. “Our office is committed to ensuring that everyone in Mississippi is treated fairly and lawfully by the police. Today’s announcement reflects that commitment. We will conduct a thorough and impartial investigation of LPD, and we will take decisive action to address any unlawful conduct.”
Before this announcement, officials from the Justice Department notified Lexington officials, who have pledged to cooperate with the investigation. As part of this investigation, the Justice Department will conduct outreach to community groups and members of the public to learn about their experiences with LPD.
The Special Litigation Section of the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division and the U.S Attorney’s Office for the Southern District of Mississippi will jointly conduct this investigation pursuant to the Violent Crime Control and Law Enforcement Act of 1994, which prohibits state and local governments from engaging in a pattern or practice of conduct by law enforcement officers that deprives people of rights protected by the Constitution or federal law. If the Justice Department has reasonable cause to believe that the law enforcement officers of a state or local government have engaged in a prohibited pattern or practice, the department is authorized to bring a lawsuit seeking court-ordered changes to remedy the violations. In this investigation, the department will assess the law enforcement practices under the First, Fourth and 14th Amendments to the U.S. Constitution, Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the non-discrimination provisions of the Safe Streets Act.
Individuals with relevant information are encouraged to 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, available at www.civilrights.justice.gov. Individuals can also report civil rights violations to the U.S. Attorney’s Office at USAMSS.firstname.lastname@example.org or (601) 973-2825.
Today’s announcement marks the 11th pattern or practice investigation into law enforcement misconduct opened by the Justice Department during this Administration. The department has ongoing investigations into the Phoenix Police Department; the Mount Vernon (NY) Police Department; the Louisiana State Police; the New York City Police Department’s Special Victims Division; the Worcester (MA) Police Department; the Oklahoma City Police Department; the Memphis (TN) Police Department; and the Trenton (NJ) Police Department. The department recently completed investigations in Louisville, Kentucky, and Minneapolis, and secured agreements in principle with both jurisdictions to negotiate consent decrees to address the violations found.
Additional information about the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division is available on its website at www.justice.gov/crt. Additional information about the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Southern District of Mississippi is available at www.justice.gov/usao-sdms. Information specific to the Civil Rights Division’s Police Reform Work can be found here: www.justice.gov/crt/file/922421/download.
The Justice Department will hold a public community meeting on Nov. 8 at 5:00 p.m. CT at St. Paul COGIC Fellowship Hall, located at 17214 Highway 17 South, Lexington, Mississippi. Members of the public are encouraged to attend to learn more about the investigation.