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WASHINGTON, Nov 8 (Reuters) – The U.S. Justice Department is conducting a civil rights probe of Lexington, Mississippi’s police department after reports of excessive force and discriminatory policing, a top justice official said on Wednesday.
Kristen Clarke, the head of the department’s Civil Rights Division, said the department received credible allegations that Lexington police stopped and searched people without justification and routinely arrested people solely for using profane language.
The investigation is unusual in that it focuses on a police department with fewer than 10 officers in a city of just 1,600 people.
« No city, no town, no law enforcement agency is too big or too small to evade our enforcement of the constitutional rights every American enjoys, » Clarke said at a press conference in Jackson, the state’s capital.
The Justice Department investigates state and local police departments when there is evidence police may routinely violate civil rights. The investigations often result in court settlements requiring outside oversight of police departments.
The practice was curtailed under Republican President Donald Trump’s administration, but under Democratic President Joe Biden, the department has investigated departments in Minneapolis; Louisville, Kentucky and Memphis, Tennessee following high-profile police killings of Black people in those cities.
Lexington is located in Holmes County, where about 83% of the population is Black, according to U.S. Census data.
The probe follows the firing last year of the department’s previous chief, Sam Dobbins, after a recording surfaced of him using racist slurs and boasting about killing 13 people while in the line of duty, according to local media reports.
Dobbins has denied using racist slurs and declined to comment on the statement about the people he killed while on duty, according to the Mississippi Center for Investigative Reporting. Dobbins could not be reached for comment on Wednesday.
Clarke said the department has not reached any conclusions and local officials pledged to cooperate with the investigation. Lexington Mayor Robin McCrory did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
Meanwhile, civil rights leaders last week called for a federal investigation into the Jackson Police Department after Dexter Wade, a 37-year-old Black man from Jackson, was reportedly struck and killed by police and buried without his family’s knowledge.
In August, six white former Mississippi law enforcement officers pleaded guilty to federal civil rights crimes for brutally assaulting two Black men in nearby Braxton, Mississippi.
Reporting by Andrew Goudsward; Editing by Scott Malone and Aurora Ellis
Our Standards: The Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.
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