In a disturbing turn of events, civil rights attorney Jill Jefferson claims she was wrongfully arrested over the weekend in Lexington, Mississippi.
Jefferson believes the arrest may have been in retaliation for her tireless advocacy work, shining a light on claims of discrimination against the city’s Black residents by the local police. The incident occurred when Jefferson, who had been invited to a private event by members of the community, witnessed a traffic stop of a Black motorist in the town’s square and began filming the encounter on her cell phone.
According to Jefferson, her intention was to capture evidence of police falsely arresting Black individuals, but she inadvertently found herself entangled in the very situation she was trying to expose.
The attorney recounted that as she was driving away from the event, she noticed a Black motorist being detained by the police. Prompted by her commitment to justice, she began recording the incident. However, she was soon flagged down by one of the officers and ordered to pull over.
“My plan was to film footage of police falsely arresting Black people, and I just happened to get caught up in it,” Jefferson told CNN Tuesday.
The encounter quickly escalated when the officer demanded to see Jefferson’s ID, which she refused to provide. The situation intensified, leaving Jefferson feeling targeted and mistreated.
“I stopped and the officer asked, ‘Show me your ID.’ He just started yelling,” she said.
Attorney Michael Carr, who represents Jefferson, has chosen not to release the cell phone video, preferring to await the release of the full body-worn camera footage from the Lexington Police Department.
Meanwhile, Jefferson expressed her distress, recalling how officers aimed a Taser at her, forcibly removed her from the car, and confiscated her phone.
“They illegally searched my car. They went through my glove compartment, under my floor mats, they went into the briefcase and unzipped it and started taking things out and looking through them. All of this is an illegal search,” she told CNN.
She described the subsequent search of her vehicle as illegal, asserting that police rummaged through her belongings without a valid reason. During the search, a legally registered handgun belonging to Jefferson was discovered.
What adds another layer of concern to this incident is the fact that Jefferson had prior interactions with one of the arresting officers due to her civil rights work in the city. She overheard officers referring to her as “the woman that’s suing us,” indicating that they were aware of her background upon her arrest.
This arrest follows a federal lawsuit filed by Jefferson in 2022 against the City of Lexington and its police department, accusing them of intimidation, harassment, and unlawful imprisonment. The case is currently in the discovery phase, with a trial date set for June 2024. The City of Lexington’s attorney declined to comment on the ongoing litigation or Jefferson’s latest claims.
Lexington faced previous controversies when its former police chief, Sam Dobbins, was terminated in July 2022 after using racist and homophobic slurs. Despite the termination, the city has faced allegations of unjustified arrests and excessive force against its Black residents. The recent visit of Kristen Clarke, assistant attorney general for the Civil Rights Division of the US Department of Justice, to examine these allegations underscores the seriousness of the situation.
Jefferson spent two days in the Holmes County Jail on charges of failure to comply, disorderly conduct, and resisting arrest, all of which she vehemently denies. She remained in custody as an act of protest, refusing to pay the fee for her release. Eventually, the Lexington Police Department waived the fee, leading to her release. Her trial for the arrest is scheduled for July.
“These are the same charges we see time and time again against Black motorists in the city, falsely imprisoning people. This time it just happened to be me,” she said.
Jefferson’s arrest serves as a stark reminder of the ongoing challenges faced by Black motorists in Lexington and the urgent need for police accountability and reform. The city, with its predominantly Black population, must address these deep-rooted issues to ensure the safety and fair treatment of all its residents.