Civil rights attorney Jill Collen Jefferson Credit: Courtesy of Jill Collen Jefferson

Civil rights attorney Jill Collen Jefferson was arrested Saturday night by Lexington police — the same department she complained about nine days earlier to Assistant U.S. Attorney General Kristen Clarke.

Holmes County Sheriff Willie March confirmed Jefferson’s arrest. She is being held in the Holmes-Humphreys County/Regional Correctional Facility. According to Jefferson’s defense attorney, Michael Carr of Cleveland, she is charged with failure to comply, disorderly conduct and resisting arrest. March referred all questions to the Lexington Police Department, which referred comments to Police Chief Charles Henderson, who was out of the office and unavailable.

Carr said he reached Henderson on Saturday night and that the chief said he knew nothing about the arrest and agreed to release Jefferson without bond. But the jail rdquires detainees to pay a $35 processing fee before being released. Carr said Jefferson refused to pay the fee, both because she said it was an unlawful arrest and because people in Lexington can’t afford to pay such a fee.

Jefferson was released from jail Monday, according to her attorney. Authorities dropped the demand for the $35, he said

Carr said around 10 p.m. Saturday Jefferson was filming traffic a stop from her car on a public street and that apparently incensed the police officer. He asked for her ID, which she gave him. Then he told her to get out of the car, which she refused to do. So he pulled her out and arrested her, Carr said.

Those working for Jefferson’s nonprofit, JULIAN, complained that she has been falsely arrested. In a press release, her office maintains the charges are bogus: “It’s clear this is retaliation against her work to seek justice and truth for the onslaught of police brutality in the area.”

On June 1, Clarke met with residents of Lexington to hear their concerns and complaints regarding local law enforcement. She also met with Jefferson, who has filed repeated complaints against the Lexington Police Department.

The Mississippi Center for Investigative Reporting broke the story of a recording of then-Lexington Police Chief Sam Dobbins, who is white and can be heard on a recording filled with racist and homophobic slurs, bragging about killing 13 people in the line of duty.

In one case, he said, “I shot that n—– 119 times, OK?” In another part of the tape, Dobbins can be heard saying, “I don’t give a f— if you have to kill a motherf—er in cold blood.”

A day later, the City Council fired Dobbins, but Jefferson and other residents said the harassment of Black residents has continued under the new chief. JULIAN filed a lawsuit that said more than 200 Black residents had complained about unconstitutional treatment by the Lexington Police Department.

But a federal judge rejected a request for a restraining order against the department.

In her visit to Mississippi, Clarke said the Civil Rights Division she oversees is already investigating whether Rankin County sheriff’s deputies used excessive force when they allegedly shot a Black man in the mouth during a drug raid.

Jefferson named the nonprofit, JULIAN, after her mentor, Julian Bond. She worked on civil rights policy in Congressman John Lewis’ office and helped implement and served as a speechwriter for then-President Obama’s 2012 presidential campaign.

Updated 6/12/23: This story has been updated to reflect Jill Collen Jefferson has been released from custody.

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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.