Rankin County sheriff violated public records law by withholding incident reports, judge says

Michael Jenkins, second from right, stand with his mother, Mary Jenkins, center, and their...
Michael Jenkins, second from right, stand with his mother, Mary Jenkins, center, and their attorneys at a news conference Wednesday, Feb. 15. 2023, in Jackson, Miss., following his release from the hospital three weeks after being shot by sheriff's deputies. The Justice Department says it has opened a civil rights investigation into the Rankin County Sheriff's Office after its deputies wounded Jenkins during a drug raid on Jan. 24. Jenkins says he was beaten and shot in the mouth unjustifiably. The sheriff says Jenkins was charged with assaulting an officer and drug possession. (AP Photo/Michael Goldberg)(Michael Goldberg | AP)
Published: Mar. 16, 2023 at 3:57 PM CDT
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The Rankin County Sheriff’s Department violated the Mississippi Public Records Act for refusing to give incident reports about the deaths of three men killed by sheriff’s deputies or while in their custody, a Rankin County court ruled last week. 

On March 10, the Rankin County Chancery Judge Troy Farrell Odom ruled the sheriff’s office wrongly withheld requested incident reports by incorrectly claiming they were investigatory reports, which are exempt under the public records law. 

“The public has an absolute right to know the who, what, when, and where,” Odom said during the Feb. 16 bench trial. “ … But the day that our law enforcement officers start shielding this information from the public, all the while repeating, ‘Trust us. We're from the government,’ is the day that should startle all Americans.”

New York-based media company Insider, Inc., represented by the Mississippi Center for Justice, brought a lawsuit against the sheriff’s office in 2022 for refusing to turn over all records even after a reporter paid a fee invoice. Research editor Hannah Beckler asked the records officer to reconsider its denial, but that was denied. 

Insider requested records were for the following deaths:

  • Cory Jackson, died in the sheriff’s office custody on May 15, 2021.
  • Damien Montrell Cameron, died in the sheriff’s office custody on July 26, 2021.
  • Shannon Trevor McKinley, shot Aug. 21, 2021.
  • Robert Rushton, shot Dec. 21, 2021.

“As the Court recognized in this case, public access to public records — particularly law enforcement incident reports — is the law of the land,” Mississippi Center for Justice President and CEO Vangela M. Wade said in a statement. “In Mississippi, we value a functioning democracy above any tradeoffs of obfuscation.” 

In its 2022 complaint, Insider asked the court to order the Rankin County Sheriff’s Department to produce the public records and award Insider all costs and expenses, including attorney’s fees. 

Odom said in his Feb. 16 bench ruling that the requested documents were later provided to Insider once the Mississippi Bureau of Investigation completed its investigation. As a result, the court denied Insider’s request for expenses, costs and attorney’s fees. 

Records are also being sought in another incident involving Rankin County deputies. 

In January, Rankin County deputies allegedly raided a Braxton home where they beat and threatened two Black men, Michael Corey Jenkins and Eddie Terrell Parker, and shot Jenkins in the mouth, according to Malik Shabazz, the men’s attorneys. Federal authorities have opened a civil rights investigation into the deputies’ actions. 

This article first appeared on Mississippi Today and is republished here under a Creative Commons license.

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