The Department of Justice announced today that it has opened a civil investigation, or de facto investigation, into the City of Lexington, Mississippi, and the Lexington Police Department (LPD). Lexington is a city of approximately 1,600 people located about an hour from the state capital of Jackson, Mississippi.
The investigation will seek to determine whether there have been 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, nondiscriminatory, and respect First Amendment rights to speech and conduct. The investigation will include a comprehensive review of LPD policies, training and oversight, fine and fee collection practices, and accountability systems.
“No city, town or law enforcement agency is too big or too small to avoid our enforcement of the constitutional rights enjoyed by every American,” said Assistant Attorney General Kristen Clark of the Division for Civil Rights of the Ministry of Justice. “We are launching this investigation to determine whether the Lexington Police Department engaged in a pattern or practice of discriminatory policing, excessive force, or First Amendment violations.” This investigation should send a clear message to small and medium-sized police departments that they are not exempt from the duty to provide fair, effective and non-discriminatory policing. We will leave no community behind, including the underserved regions of the Deep South, in our pursuit of legal and constitutional policing in America.
“Police officers are entrusted with the important duty of keeping 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 take decisive action to address any illegal conduct.
Prior to the announcement, Justice Department officials notified Lexington officials, who pledged to cooperate with the investigation. As part of this investigation, the Department of Justice will contact community groups and members of the public to learn about their experiences with LPD.
The Special Litigation Unit of the Department of Justice’s Civil Rights Division and the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Southern District of Mississippi will jointly conduct this investigation under the Violent Crime Control and Law Enforcement Act of 1994, which prohibits state and local governments from engage in a pattern or practice of conduct by law enforcement officials that deprives individuals of rights protected by the Constitution or federal law. If the Department of Justice has reasonable cause to believe that state or local government law enforcement officials have engaged in a prohibited pattern or practice, the department is authorized to file suit seeking court-ordered changes to remedy the violations. In this investigation, the Department will evaluate law enforcement practices under the First, Fourth, and 14th Amendments to the United States Constitution, Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, and the nondiscrimination provisions of the Safe Streets Act.
Persons with relevant information are encouraged to contact the Department of Justice by email at [email protected] or by phone at (833) 610-1232. Individuals may also report civil rights violations regarding this or other matters by using the Department of Justice’s Civil Rights Division reporting portal available at www.civilrights.justice.gov. Individuals may also report civil rights violations to the US Attorney’s Office at [email protected] or (601) 973-2825.
Today’s announcement marks the 11th investigation into a pattern or practice of law enforcement misconduct launched by the Department of Justice during this administration. The department has ongoing investigations at the Phoenix Police Department; the Mount Vernon (New York) Police Department; Louisiana State Police; NYPD Special Victims Unit; 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 Department of Justice’s Civil Rights Division is available on its website at www.justice.gov/crt. Additional information about the United States Attorney’s Office for the Southern District of Mississippi can be found at www.justice.gov/usao-sdms. Information specific to the Civil Rights Division’s work on police reform can be found here: www.justice.gov/crt/file/922421/download.
The Department of Justice will hold a public meeting on November 8 at 5:00 pm CT in the St. John’s Fellowship Hall. Paul COGIC, located at 17214 Highway 17 South, Lexington, Mississippi. Members of the public are encouraged to attend to learn more about the investigation.