3 Mississippi cops charged with murder of black man

Michael Levenson and Marie Fazio, The New York Times

Posted at Aug 15 2020 11:46 AM

Three Mississippi police officers have been charged with killing a Black man by body-slamming him to the ground and then beating him last year, authorities said Friday.

The three officers — Desmond Barney, Lincoln Lampley and Anthony Fox — were indicted this month on charges of second-degree murder in the death of George Robinson, 62, of Jackson, Mississippi.

The officers, who were all members of the Jackson Police Department at the time, caused Robinson’s death by pulling him from his car, throwing him headfirst onto the roadway pavement, and then striking and kicking him multiple times in the head and chest, according to the indictment, issued by a grand jury in Hinds County, Mississippi. The indictment said the officers’ actions evinced a “depraved heart, regardless of human life.”

Jody Owens II, the district attorney in Hinds County, said the officers saw Robinson sitting in his car on Jan. 13, 2019, when they were canvassing a predominantly Black neighborhood in Jackson after a pastor, Anthony Longino, was fatally shot in a botched robbery outside his church hours earlier.

The officers, who are also Black, approached Robinson because they believed they had seen him dealing drugs with another person, although that person was never detained, Owens said.

When the officers ordered Robinson to get out of his car, he was slow to comply, perhaps because he had survived a stroke, Owens said. According to witness accounts, Owens said, officers then proceeded to assault Robinson.

Medical reports, including one from the state coroner, showed that Robinson died of blunt force trauma to the head and of a bleeding brain, Owens said. The reports also showed that several of Robinson’s ribs had been broken, Owens said.

Owens, a former lawyer at the Southern Poverty Law Center, said the case was among a number of languishing investigations that he had revived after taking over as district attorney in January.

“Poor, Black — it doesn’t make a difference,” he said. “Every life has value, and we have to treat all life the same.”

The three officers have posted bond and are free awaiting their next court date, Owens said.

Lampley, 33, still works for the Jackson Police Department, but has been placed on desk duty, according to his lawyer, Francis Springer.

“We feel really confident, once we’re able to exhibit the evidence we have, that these officers are going to be vindicated,” Springer said.

After Robinson’s death, Barney, 31, and Fox, 35, were hired by the Police Department in nearby Clinton, Mississippi, according to that city’s mayor, Phil Fisher. He said both officers had been “assigned other duties within the department until this matter is resolved.”

Fisher said the Clinton Police Department hired the officers after the Jackson Police Department’s internal affairs division cleared them of wrongdoing and “multiple agencies looked into the incident and advised that no criminal conduct occurred.”

“I stand behind these two officers and believe they will be exonerated,” he said.

Paul Luckett, a lawyer for Fox, said his client was innocent, and “we are preparing to mount a vigorous defense.”

Michael Cory, a lawyer for Barney, said the three officers believe “there’s a lot more to the story, and they’re looking forward to their chance to be fully vindicated.”

Dennis C. Sweet III, a lawyer who represents Robinson’s family, said the indictment was “one place where it looks like we’re trying to get some justice for African Americans who were brutally beaten by police officers.”

“It’s been 19 months,” he said, “but at least it’s getting done.”

The charges came amid intense scrutiny of police brutality after the killing in May of George Floyd in the custody of the Minneapolis police.

Robinson’s family has filed a civil suit against the city of Jackson, the three police officers and American Medical Response Inc., the ambulance company that treated Robinson at the scene and released him. Hours after Robinson was released, his girlfriend saw that he was losing consciousness and called another ambulance, the family’s lawyers said. He died at a hospital on Jan. 15, 2019.

The suit, filed in October 2019, claims that Robinson was wrongfully killed through use of “excessive, unreasonable and unjustifiable” force and that he was denied the right to due process when he was seized from his car, according to court records.