A Lexington, Miss., police cruiser patrols near the town square, Monday, Aug. 15, 2022. A civil rights and international human rights organization filed a federal lawsuit on Tuesday, against local officials in Lexington, where they say police have "terrorized" residents, subjecting them to false arrests, excessive force and intimidation. (AP Photo/Rogelio V. Solis)

A man who sued the Lexington Police Department alleging violence and racism says an officer assaulted him in retaliation for that litigation.

That man, Malcolm Stewart, is “still in pain” after being bonded out of jail, said Jill Collen Jefferson, whose nonprofit JULIAN brought the lawsuit on behalf of Stewart and four other Black men. “He went to the hospital immediately after being released. He had a knot on the back of his head.”

Police Chief Charles Henderson disputed the accusation by Stewart, who was charged April 16 with aggravated assault on an officer, failure to comply and disturbing the peace. There are certain people who “make these accusations every time they’re arrested,” the chief said.

He encouraged an outside investigation of this case, predicting that in the end, “We’re going to come out on top.”

The police department came into the national spotlight last summer when the Mississippi Center for Investigative Reporting, now part of Mississippi Today, obtained a recording of a white law enforcement officer bragging about killing 13 people in the line of duty, saying, “I shot that n—– 119 times, OK?” 

Jefferson identified the voice as then-Police Chief Sam Dobbins, who was fired the next day by the city council in Lexington, an 85% majority Black town on the edge of the Mississippi Delta. The council chose Henderson to take his place.

Stewart’s arrest came less than a week after U.S. District Judge Tom S. Lee dismissed Stewart’s claims in an October lawsuit.

In that litigation, Stewart alleged that Henderson threatened to kill him in September 2019 as he sat in his car on private property because Stewart had refused to leave the premises — an allegation Henderson denied in court records.

Stewart quoted Henderson as saying, “If you don’t get the f— off this lot, your family’s gonna be wearing a black suit or a black dress by Sunday.”

Henderson, who is now running for constable, called Stewart’s claim “misleading” in court records.

In that litigation, Stewart also said he worked off outstanding fines by servicing police vehicles, only to be arrested after a community meeting where he voiced concerns about police.

On June 30, Stewart said that an officer saw him in a car and “reached in and yanked his shirt collar, … continuing a pattern and practice of excessive force and retaliation.”

Jefferson said Stewart was arrested on a charge of possession of stolen property.

“He was in a car that didn’t belong to him,” she said. “He’s a mechanic. He was fixing the car and didn’t know it was stolen. The police still charged him.”

Lee concluded that the bodycam video showed that the officer had probable cause to arrest Stewart and used reasonable force. The judge dismissed Stewart’s false arrest claim.

In an April 17 letter, Jefferson told Assistant Attorney General Kristen Clarke of the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division that Stewart “somehow exceeded his prepaid gas amount and went inside the station to advise the clerk. Words were exchanged which resulted in the clerk calling 911.”

When an officer arrived, he “struck Mr. Stewart in the back of the head,” she wrote. “Malcolm Stewart suffered injuries in the process.”

She asked the Justice Department to join in the litigation to protect members of the Black community from police harassment and attacks. “This is a last-ditch effort,” she said. “There is no accountability for these officers.”

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The stories of investigative reporter Jerry Mitchell have helped put four Klansmen and a serial killer behind bars. His stories have also helped free two people from death row, exposed injustices and corruption, prompting investigations and reforms as well as the firings of boards and officials. He is a Pulitzer Prize finalist, a longtime member of Investigative Reporters & Editors, and a winner of more than 30 other national awards, including a $500,000 MacArthur “genius” grant. After working for three decades for the statewide Clarion-Ledger, Mitchell left in 2019 and founded the Mississippi Center for Investigative Reporting.