Last week, civil rights attorney Jill Collen Jefferson was arrested by Lexington, MS police. She was charged with failing to comply and resisting arrest.
Jefferson claims she was arrested because she was making a video of Lexington police conducting a traffic stop. She intends to file a lawsuit against the police alleging false arrest.
Jefferson is a native of Jones County, a Harvard Law School graduate, and founder and president of JULIAN. JULIAN is a civil and human rights organization named in honor of the late civil rights activist Julian Bond.
Jefferson also is lead counsel for plaintiffs in a pending federal lawsuit claiming the Lexington Police Department is violating the U.S. Constitution by engaging in a pattern and practice of brutality, harassment, and other unlawful acts against Black Lexington residents. The lawsuit alleges the “Lexington Police Department (LPD) operates within a culture of corruption and lawlessness, daily and habitually subjecting Black citizens to harassment and brutality … LPD has violated Black Lexington citizens’ constitutional rights incessantly for over a year and continues to do so today.”
As lead counsel, Jefferson is advocating on behalf of Black Lexington residents alleging police brutality, false arrests, and other abusive conduct by city officials. Among the claims asserted are those stemming from the alleged false arrest of two persons one day after they spoke against police brutality at a “Know Your Rights” meeting on April 8, 2022.
Jefferson describes how events unfolded as she was arrested. “I was in Lexington Saturday night and saw the cops had pulled someone over. … I was driving with my right hand and held my phone recording in my left hand. The cop flagged me down with his flashlight and said, ‘show me your ID.’ I said, ‘Why? Is this a roadblock?’ He said ‘no,’ so I said, ‘why do I need to show you my ID?’ He again said ‘show me your ID’ and then he pulled out his taser.”
After her release from jail on Monday, Jefferson appeared on the “Roland Martin Unfiltered” show. She was joined by Cardell Wright, president of the Mississippi Freedom Democratic Party of Holmes County (MFDP). MFDP, the ACLU, the Southern Poverty Law Center, and JULIAN are among the organizations opposing Lexington’s police practices.
“This (arrest) comes a few days after Kristen Clark of the Justice Dept. was in your city,” Roland Martin observed. “Do you believe those two things are related?”
“I don’t know,” said Jefferson. “I can only speculate. And I don’t want to do that. But what I can tell you is that I was there at that meeting with Kristen Clark. People saw me at that meeting with her. And I spoke with Kristen Clark. I do not know if this was related. But I definitely was deeply involved with her visit.”
In response to Martin’s question about a possible link between the Assistant Attorney General’s recent visit to Lexington and the arrest of Jefferson, Wright said such arrests happen as a regular routine there and didn’t think the visit by a top justice department officer would have made a difference.
“This situation with the attorney general is just one of many situations we have been dealing with over the past two years,” Wright said. “These issues come every day. Even at our press conference, people were driving by saying, ‘I need to talk to you.’”
“We’re on the ground every day, and I’m thankful for Attorney Jefferson for making that sacrifice and for JULIAN being in the community helping us with the fight against injustice, police corruption, and police brutality. But it does not stop there. It’s corrupting our elections and our elected officials, and so many unethical and illegal things are happening. It’s at a point now that the people of Lexington and in the whole county are leaving because they’ve seen their sons and daughters get beat up in their yards or they’ve been hosed and tased for nothing. And they’re always being held on trumped-up charges of disorderly conduct, resisting arrest, or failure to comply. These are the same charges that they put on Attorney Jefferson.”
Jefferson is represented by attorney Michael Carr. Carr said Jefferson ultimately did comply with the police officer’s request to produce identification, but questioned why the officers had approached her as she filmed on a public street since Mississippi law does allow nearby observers to film or videotape police actions in public venues.
Carr noted that Jefferson is determined to fight the system of arbitrary arrest and violation of her constitutional rights. “As an advocate for her clients,” Carr said, “Jill Jefferson believes that this pattern and practice has happened to citizens in Lexington. Through this experience, she is showing the state, the area, and possibly the nation the corrupt practices of this city.”