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Lexington releases civil rights attorney arrested while filming traffic stop

Authorities have released civil rights attorney and JULIAN President Jill Collen Jefferson from jail in Holmes County after Lexington Police arrested her on Saturday, June 10, 2023. Photo courtesy Jill Collen Jefferson

Authorities have released civil rights attorney Jill Collen Jefferson from jail in Holmes County after Lexington Police arrested her on Saturday, June 10, while she was filming a traffic stop she saw after leaving an event. Police arrested the JULIAN president nine days after she complained about the department’s treatment of Black residents while meeting with U.S. Justice Department officials.


Jefferson’s attorney, Michael Carr, who said he “is very concerned (Lexington Police) engaged in a false arrest in this case,” informed the Mississippi Free Press this morning that she was being released. Bail bondsman Bonita Streeter also confirmed the release, saying officials had waived fees for the civil rights attorney’s release.


Jefferson, who is from Jones County, founded JULIAN in 2020. She named the organization, which conducts investigations into possible civil rights violations, after her mentor, longtime civil rights leader Julian Bond.

The arrest sparked a backlash from the community over the weekend.


“The citizens of Lexington are fearful of driving for fear of harassment from the police,” the Mississippi Freedom Democratic Party said in a statement this morning condemning Collen’s arrest. “Innocent mentally ill citizens are brutalized on our streets and imprisoned unlawfully. Our elected officials have refused to act on this matter because these unlawful arrests are benefitting the city financially.”


‘I Guess She Thought That Was A Good Idea’

Assistant U.S. Attorney General Kristen Clarke, who is with the U.S. Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division, visited Lexington on June 1 along with U.S. Attorney Darren J. LaMarca of the Southern District of Mississippi.


“In her remarks, Assistant Attorney General Clarke discussed the Justice Department’s commitment to address civil rights issues, including enforcing federal school desegregation orders, addressing jail and prison conditions and prosecuting hate crimes,” a Justice Department readout said. “The meeting focused on civil rights issues, like law enforcement accountability.”

U.S. Department of Justice Civil Rights Division Assistant U.S. Attorney General Kristen Clarke visited Lexington, Miss., on June 1, 2023, where she met with local leaders, including Jill Collen Jefferson, to discuss civil rights issues in Holmes County. Photo courtesy Justice Department

The Mississippi Freedom Democratic Party said its members “were feeling hopeful” after Clarke and LaMarca’s visit—until Jill Collen Jefferson’s arrest.


“Upon leaving an event, she witnessed police officers engaging with a citizen, but because of the numerous complaints against the police department, she decided to drive by the scene and record,” MFDP said. “While driving, an officer asked her to show her driver’s license Other officers approached the vehicle and began to pull her out. She was placed in handcuffs and put in the patrol car.”


Attorney Carr said police charged Jefferson with three misdemeanors, including failure to comply, disorderly conduct and resisting arrest. But he told the Mississippi Free Press this morning that the police department had offered no “narrative supplement” to explain why they charged her with those offenses.


After this story first published, though, Carr shared a recording with the Mississippi Free Press that his office obtained that he says includes remarks the arresting officer made about Jefferson. This reporter could not verify the identity of the person speaking in the recording, however.


“I told her to give me her license five, six, seven, eight times,” a man can be heard saying on the recording. “She argued she ain’t got to. … She was riding by filming. I guess she thought that was a good idea.”


The Mississippi Free Press reached out to the Lexington Police Department for comment this morning, but an employee said there was “no one here right now to speak about that matter” and to call back later. Reached again this afternoon following this story’s initial publication, the department again said no one was available to speak.


Jefferson Speaks: ‘I Did Not Resist’

Later this afternoon, attorney Carr sent this reporter a video of Jill Jefferson speaking with members of the media in Lexington, where she accused the local police of “terrorizing Black people here.”


She said she was driving around with a passenger when she saw the police had someone pulled over and decided to film the incident. The passenger, she said, got out of the car, fearing the police would pull Jefferson over for filming them.


“As soon as the cops saw me, Officer Scott Walters started flagging me down with his flashlight,” Jefferson told reporters. “I stopped, I let my window down, and he said, ‘Show me your ID.’ I said, ‘Why do you need to see my ID?’ … And then he pulled out his taser. And I said, ‘You’re going to tase me?’ And that point, I called my attorney. He said, ‘Jill, of course this is not right, but just show them your ID so you can get this over with.'”


Jefferson said she followed her lawyer’s suggestion, but the situation only escalated from there.


“I held up my license. At that point, Officer Walters snatched my phone out of my hand, he slammed it on the top of the car,” she said. “He started trying to yank at my door handle, trying to pull it open. My car door was locked. He reached through the window and unlocked my car door through the inside. He pulled the door open, pulled me out of the car, pushed me against the car, and then proceeded to arrest me—cuff me. He put my hands behind my back. I did not resist.”


Jefferson said that, after the officer put her in the back of a police car, Jefferson said another officer joined Walters searching her car.


“Then they went to the driver’s side and Officer Walters knelt down and put his hand under the seat and he said, ‘Oh, looky here.’ He’d found my firearm,” she said. “And he said, ‘I sure hope it’s stolen.’ At that point, he came back to the police car. I told him the search was illegal. He told me he would never hire me. He told me I was a shit lawyer since I didn’t know about search incident to arrest. He told me I was being arrested for failure to comply. I told him I had not done anything wrong. He said nothing and shut the car door. He took me to the police station.”


‘It’s Actually Beyond A Breaking Point’

In July 2022, JULIAN shared a recording with the Mississippi Center For Investigative Reporting in which a Lexington police officer bragged about shooting a Black man, saying he “shot that n— 119 times” and that he did not “give a f— if you kill a motherf—ker in cold blood.” JULIAN alleged that then-Police Chief Sam Dobbins was the voice in the recording, and the City voted 3-2 to fire him days later.


A month later, JULIAN filed a lawsuit against the Lexington Police Department, alleging that it “operates within a culture of corruption and lawlessness, daily and habitually subjecting Black citizens to harassment and brutality, in violation of their civil rights.”


“We are just asking the court to restrain them from targeting, harassing, assaulting Black citizens and violating their constitutional rights in other ways,” Jill Collen Jefferson told the Mississippi Free Press last year. “It’s at a breaking point—it’s actually beyond a breaking point.”


Carr said Jefferson’s court date is set for July 13 at the Lexington Municipal Court.


Lexington is 86% Black and 13% white, but has a deeply racist past. At the dedication of a Confederate monument there in 1908, Confederate veteran Wiley N. Nash said that “these Confederate monuments, these sacred memorials, tells in silent but potent language, that the white people of the South shall rule and govern the Southern states forever.”


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