JACKSON, Miss. (WLBT) - More than a month ago, the Civil Service Commission ordered Jackson Police Department and the city of Jackson to return several officers to regular duty.
All of them were front-lines officers, some members of the narcotics unit, K9 officers, many of them part of the unit that was called the Gun Crimes Interdiction Team, which existed before Police Chief James Davis’ tenure. They’re now pushing pencils, stripped of their law enforcement powers, unable to even work security jobs to make up for the overtime they’re not getting anymore on the job.
“It’s very unfortunate that the city of Jackson has lost a number of very good police officers, and you sometimes have to look at the top to see who is running a department,” said Dale Danks, attorney for the desked officers and former Jackson Mayor.
All of the officers -- Rakasha Adams, Lincoln Lampley, Desmond Barney, and Anthony Fox -- had recently been in critical incidents: Three were involved in the detainment of George Robinson, who died later. So far no proof has been found that his death was linked to his encounter with them, in spite of the city offering a reward for information on that incident. Another was involved in the shooting death of Crystalline Barnes, a 21-year-old who was shot in her car. Very few details are known about that situation.
An internal affairs probe cleared them all of wrongdoing in both cases. Springer, a former law enforcement officer himself, said he looked into the cases too.
“The uses of force that I’ve been able to investigate from our perspective were very justified,” he said. “They were done because they had to be done, and some of these, I think will be shown, didn’t relate to the deaths of these people at all.”
The fight has been against crime for these officers until now. But now the battle appears to have moved downtown.
“When you become a police officer, you expect to have to fight, you expect to get shot, perhaps, or to have to shoot people,” said Francis Springer, another attorney on their defense team. “You expect the problems from the street. I don’t think any of them expected to have to fight city hall.”
“We don’t know who’s making the ultimate decision, if it’s the chief or someone else, but the civil service commission and the lawyers and the legal department have worked with us,” said attorney Michael Cory. “But in the end these officers are still not back at work.”
The attorneys say the city is breaking state statute by ignoring the civil service commission. On Wednesday, they filed a request for the court to hold the city accountable and fully reinstate the officers as the Civil Service Commission directed them to.
“I don’t think the department’s goal is to put someone on leave and hang them out there for months, while at the same time the city cries for fighting crime and preventing these types of situations from developing,” said Danks. “But you run into a situation where you have one government entity -- or part of an entity -- refusing to acknowledge what’s in the best interests of the city as well as these police officers who have been treated very unfairly.”
The city had 30 days to dispute the commission’s order to reinstate the officers. City officials have suggested that they are waiting for the officers to go in front of a grand jury. In the past, it has been common for law enforcement officers to move through the judicial system quickly. Springer said no one has been able to tell him why the alleged case hasn’t moved forward yet.
“No, we don’t know why, and none of these officers are considered ‘suspects.’ They’ve been linked by someone back to these deaths, but none of them have been considered suspects. The assumption is, and I’d have to refer to the DA, all of these cases would go to the grand jury either to find a suspect or say the investigation is complete.”
“I don’t know any agencies that have a practice like this. These are law enforcement agencies, they know when crimes have been committed, even by their own people," Springer said. “They’ve prosecuted their own people.”
And yet, under the Davis administration about 10 officers have been taken off duty without explanation after having to use force, Springer said.
The situation has affected the morale of the rest of the department.
Springer: "The officers in Jackson are reluctant to get into enforcement activities for fear of becoming one of these officers, having to use force and being placed on administrative leave perpetually or fired."
Cory said it's time to push the issue through.
“Based on what we’ve seen, we’ve not seen anything that enables the police department to leave these officers on leave or on a restrictive status for a long period of time when there’s no active pending investigation or they’ve already been cleared,” Cory said. “So we would ask a federal court to ask the city of Jackson to to follow its own civil service rules and its own general orders, which we believe would result in a shorter period of time that officers were left in a status pending an investigation.”
As for JPD and the Mayor’s office, their side remains largely unexplained, and they declined comment for this story. We reached out to the District Attorney as well and received no call back.