By Emily Le Coz/NEMS Daily Journal
TUPELO – A lack of referrals to Lee County’s new drug court prompted calls for an investigation Monday by the NAACP.
More than a dozen members of the NAACP Lee County branch attended the Board of Supervisors meeting at the county Justice Center. Branch President Robert Jamison urged that the county take seriously the allegations that other judges aren’t cooperating with the drug court.
“A strange thing is going on,” Jamison told the supervisors, who set the budgets for the courts. “You need to take a good look at all your judges. You need to take a good look at all your programs.”
Board President Tommie Lee Ivy said he’d consider the request; no one else on the board commented.
The new drug court program is run by Justice Court Judge Rickey Thompson, who launched the drug court in January after a year of preparation. Defendants accused of a drug-related misdemeanor can be sentenced to the drug court program by any of the four judges in Justice Court.
But since the program’s debut, Thompson has done almost all of the referring.
Of the 30 people recommended for drug court, 26 came from Thompson, said the program’s director, Shirley Moon. The other four came from Judge Sadie Holland.
Judges Pat Carr and John Hoyt Sheffield have referred none, and the NAACP believes it’s a deliberate move on their part to discriminate against Thompson.
Thompson is the only African-American judge in Justice Court. The other three judges are white.
“We believe Rickey Thompson is being discriminated against because of the color of his skin,” Jamison said, adding that the court clerk also bears responsibility.
Justice Court Clerk Debbie Berryman told the Daily Journal she has nothing to do with assigning defendants to drug court. The judges make that determination, she said.
When asked why he hasn’t referred any people to drug court, Sheffield said: “Everything that can be done through drug court can done through Justice Court.”
Other judges could not immediately be reached for comment.
One difference between the drug court and other justice courts is where the money goes. Drug court fines go back to the drug court; other justice court fines go into the general fund.
Thompson said he had heard the NAACP was involved but declined to comment on the allegations. Instead, he lauded the benefits of the misdemeanor drug court.
“It’s doing great work for the people who go through it,” he said. “It’s making a difference in their lives.”
The program is the county’s first small-offense drug court, and it joins a felony drug court already in operation through the 1st Judicial District system, which represents seven counties, including Lee.
Drug court participants either must have full-time jobs or be enrolled in school, submit to regular drug and alcohol tests, and meet with the court monthly for case reviews.
After they successfully complete the program, they have the opportunity to clear their record of the misdemeanor.
Contact Emily Le Coz at (662) 678-1588 or firstname.lastname@example.org.