LEXINGTON – The firing of former police chief Sam Dobbins wasn’t enough, and he should be held accountable for crimes he has admitted to and those that happened under his watch, a civil rights attorney and community organizers said.
Civil rights Attorney Malik Shabazz announced Monday outside the Lexington Police Department that Washington, D.C.- based legal group Black Lawyers for Justice plans to review the police department and how it operated under Dobbins.
“The department will be investigated on the principles of what has come out of the mouth of the chief of this department,” he said. “We will make sure that everything is investigated even if nobody comes forward or if everybody is intimidated. The United States of America is watching this.”
Dobbins was fired in July after an audio recording surfaced of him using a racial slur and homophobic language, bragging about killing 13 people as a member of the police force and shooting one person 119 times.
Despite his firing, Shabazz said his office has received reports that Dobbins has been seen at the police department and fear he may be destroying evidence and intimidating witnesses.
Priscilla Sterling of the Emmett Till Justice for Families Foundation is Till’s cousin. She said after 67 years, justice has not been served for his death. Several weeks ago, a grand jury declined to indict the last living accomplice, Carolyn Bryant Donham, after the discovery of new evidence.
Sterling connected the impact political interest and white supremacy had on Till’s case with circumstances that led to Dobbins becoming police chief in Lexington and how he has not been held accountable for his actions.
“We can no longer let that happen. We can no longer allow this to happen,” Sterling said. “We’ve seen what happened with Emmett.”
Black Lawyers for Justice will host a tribunal at 5 p.m. Monday where residents are invited to testify about any illegal action taken by Dobbins while he was police chief and member of the police department.
The tribunal will take place at the restaurant LaRue’s Room located at 2201 Depot Road.
People can testify and give statements about a number of actions by Dobbins or the Lexington Police Department, including unlawful killings and shootings, use of excessive force, false arrests, racial profiling, systyematic policy and training and more, Shabazz said.
Other organizations co-sponsoring the hearing include Emmett Till Justice for Families Foundation, Mississippi Freedom Democratic Party, Mississippi Local Organizing Committee, Black Liberation Movement and the New Black Panther Party.
Another goal of the hearing is to collect evidence to expand the legal action against Dobbins. Shabazz said that can come in the form of cilvil action like compensatory damages awarded to people victimized by Dobbins, or criminal action, like charges of murder.
The Lexington Police Department has violated the constitutional rights of Black residents through behavior including retaliation for speaking out against police, false arrests, baseless vehicle searches and unreasonable police force, a federal lawsuit against Dobbins, the department and city alleges.
Civil rights organization JULIAN is asking the court to issue a temporary restraining order against the police department to prevent mistreatment of residents.
The plaintiffs are five Black men who have experienced abuse by the Lexington police. Over 200 Black residents formally or informally complained about treatment by the police in the past year, according to the lawsuit.
The organization is also calling for a federal investigation of systemic racism in the Lexington Police Department and municipal government.
Shabazz said JULIAN’s lawsuit is strong, but it doesn’t cover every allegation against Dobbins.
“This is going to take some serious action to uproot what has gone on in this town,” he said. “I think this is the start. This is the start of a very long battle.”