Group to file complaint against Lee County sheriff

TUPELO – The Coalition of African-American Organizations plans to file a complaint with the U.S. Department of Justice about alleged civil rights issues within the Lee County jail.
The sheriff, meanwhile, says he will “not be intimidated” by the group’s actions.
Coalition spokesman Kenneth Mayfield and other members of the group held a press conference Friday to discuss some of the allegations against the jail and Lee County Sheriff Jim Johnson.
In a letter to the Civil Rights Division of the U.S. Department of Justice, Mayfield alleges police brutality, illegal use of Tasers, illegal search and seizures in the jail, illegal strip searches, denial of medication, inhumane living conditions and discrimination against women and minorities.
“We have been informed that Sheriff Johnson has a practice of violating rights of the citizens incarcerated in the jail,” said Mayfield.
“Also we feel that he has unfair hiring practices when it comes to minorities. The jail has been hit with more than 70 federal lawsuits under Johnson, so the taxpayers are footing the bill for his reckless behavior. The sheriff is the top law official in this county, but that does not make him above the law.”
In a Lee County Board of Supervisors meeting last week, the coalition expressed concerns about Johnson and the jail. In a prepared statement at the meeting, Johnson said the group was there to intimidate him because of his position as chairman of the Board of Law Enforcement Officers Standards and Training.
Johnson said he was being pressured to help Tupelo Deputy Chief Robert Hall to get recertified as a police officer.
Mayfield said Hall’s certification had nothing to do with the complaint filed against Johnson.
“The sheriff is using Hall as a smokescreen,” said Mayfield. “And none of these things has anything to do with Hall, but only with the sheriff and the jail.”
When asked about Mayfield’s plans to file the complaint, Johnson stood firm by a statement he made in front of the board during last week’s meeting.
“I’m not going to be harassed or intimidated by anyone to do anything that I don’t believe in,” said Johnson. “My stance has not changed.”
Among the documents Mayfield is sending to the U.S. Department of Justice are several handwritten letters from former inmates at the jail alleging abuse and inhumane living conditions.
Mayfield anticipates a timeline of six months to a year before the status of the complaint is known.

Contact Danza Johnson at (662) 678-1583 or danza.johnson@djournal.com.

Danza Johnson/NEMS Daily Journal