“Today the Justice Department is announcing the opening of a civil rights investigation into the city of Lexington, Mississippi, and the Lexington Police Department to determine whether they engage in a pattern or practice of conduct that violates the Constitution and federal law,” DOJ Assistant Attorney General Kristen Clarke said in a news conference Wednesday.
“Specifically, we will assess whether the police department uses excessive force; violates people’s civil and constitutional rights during stops, searches and arrests; engages in discriminatory policing; or violates people’s rights to engage in speech or conduct protected by the Constitution.”
CNN has reached out to the Lexington Police Department for comment. A woman who answered Lexington City Hall’s phone Wednesday told CNN “No comment” before hanging up.
Lexington, a city of about 1,600 people, is the county seat of Holmes County and about 50 miles north of the Mississippi state capital.
About 86% of Lexington’s population is Black. Last year, the town’s White police chief was fired after audio surfaced of him allegedly using racist and homophobic slurs.
A Mississippi civil rights attorney filed a lawsuit against the city, alleging instances of police misconduct and inappropriate arrests of Black residents. That attorney, who is also Black, said she believes her arrest in June may have been in retaliation for her lawsuit.
The DOJ’s assistant attorney general said based on a review of information, “We conclude there is significant justification to open this investigation now. For example, there are allegations that Lexington police officers have:
• Stopped, searched and arrested people without justification;
• Used force against people who did not pose a threat to the officers;
• Used illegal roadblocks targeted at Black drivers; and
• Retaliated against people exercising their right to question police action or record police activity. LPD also appears to have violated the First Amendment by routinely arresting people merely for using profanity.”
Clarke stressed that the DOJ investigation is just beginning, and “We have drawn no conclusions.”
“In the event we find violations, we will seek to work cooperatively with the city of Lexington and the Lexington Police Department to reach an agreement on remedies. If we cannot reach such an agreement, then the Justice Department is authorized to bring a civil lawsuit seeking injunctive relief to address the violations,” Clarke said.
“If we do not find such violations, we will announce that result. As always, we will not tolerate retaliation against community residents who participate in our investigation.”
Lexington officials have been briefed about the DOJ investigation, “and we are pleased that they have pledged their cooperation,” Clarke said.
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