Lexington’s former police chief, the department’s members and the city are facing a second lawsuit, this time for the alleged unlawful arrest and jailing of a Jackson Public Schools officer in 2021.
Javarius Russell, who was attending a New Year’s Eve celebration, accuses former chief Sam Dobbins and other defendants of arresting him for crashing a four-wheeler all-terrain vehicle into a police vehicle, which he said didn’t happen and in his complaint filed Monday called a “pure fabrication.” As he was in Dobbins’ police car, another officer told the chief that Russell didn’t cause damage to the car, but he was still arrested, according to the lawsuit.
Russell was jailed over the long weekend, and during that period Dobbins allegedly told Russell and another man who attended the gathering that in exchange for $2,700 in cash, Dobbins would drop their charges and let them go, according to the lawsuit. Dobbins also allegedly spoke with Russell’s family and told members about the deal.
“Mr. Russell did nothing wrong; he is just one victim of the blatant misconduct and brutality perpetrated by the Lexington Police Department,” Joshua Tom, legal director of the ACLU of Mississippi, said in a statement. “The actions of these officers represent a clear danger to the Lexington community, and they, along with the City of Lexington, must be held accountable.”
City officials will have 21 days to respond to the lawsuit, which is one side of a legal argument.
Lexington is 86% Black and attorneys say they have long suffered under the department’s racially motivated and discriminatory policing practices, according to the ACLU.
Dobbins was fired last year after an audio recording surfaced of him using racial slurs, bragging about killing 13 people during his law enforcement career and shooting a man over 100 times.
Civil rights organization JULIAN filed the first lawsuit last summer on behalf of five Black residents who accused Dobbins and officers of retaliation, unlawful arrest and other mistreatment. Attorney Jill Collen Jefferson asked for a restraining order against the police department to prevent it from mistreating Black residents, but that order was denied in September.
Attorney Malik Shabazz of Washington D.C.-based Black Lawyers for Justice came to Lexington last summer to meet with residents and call for charges for Dobbins and a review of the police department and its operation under him.
As a result of his unlawful detention, Russell suffered mental and emotional distress, including “severe anxiety connected to those in law enforcement positions, even though he himself is a law enforcement officer,” the lawsuit states.
Lexington police did not return his employer-issued firearm until his release, and Russell has been blocked from using his firearm for his job, according to the complaint. He also suffered financial harm from loss of wages when he had to take time off work to recover.
The ACLU of Missisisppi is asking for a judge to award damages and declare that the defendants violated Russell’s constitutional and civil rights.
Attorneys request that the police department and city be enjoined from interfering with the rights of anyone in their custody, soliciting cash payments from jail detainees and telling people in custody that they can have charges dropped for doing something for the police.
They also want the federal court to oversee implementation of police and city policies and training to prevent unlawful acts from happening again and for an independent special monitor to be appointed to oversee progress, according to the lawsuit.
The lawsuit is part of a new ACLU of Mississippi initiative to work with law firms, private attorneys and community organizations to file lawsuits to address unconstitutional police misconduct and violence.
“The more individual civil actions we bring, the more we hold police accountable,” Executive Director Jarvis Dortch said in a statement. “Unfortunately, there are far too many Javarius Russell’s, and it often feels like the issue of police violence is overwhelming.”