Today in Hinds County Court, Judge Faye Peterson dismissed all charges against former JPD officers Desmond Barney and Lincoln Lampley in the beating death of George Robinson.
The two were accused in his death along with fellow former JPD officer Anthony Fox, who faces trial in September. All three were charged with second degree murder in the incident.
It’s not terribly common for a judge to issue a directed verdict, so when Peterson took it under advisement overnight Wednesday, it was unusual. On Thursday morning, she dismissed the charges with prejudice, saying that evidence and witnesses did not prove beyond a reasonable doubt that Lampley and Barney were involved in any activity that could have caused Robinson’s death.
Robinson died roughly two days after an incident with police as they searched for the killer of a local pastor. Fox saw a possible drug transaction, and officers approached Robinson’s vehicle. As they took him out of the car, other officers testified that they were trying to keep him from putting something in his mouth.
Some prosecution witnesses said the three officers slammed him to the ground and stomped and kicked him. Two of the witnesses said there were five or six officers. The witnesses, however, could not identify the officers, although one of them identified Barney as the officer that stood talking to him during the time Robinson was being arrested.
District Attorney Jody Owens said it was because the officers were wearing face coverings the day of the incident, though officers on the scene that day who spoke to Darkhorse Press said that Fox and Lincoln were not.
Peterson said the only evidence that actually placed Lincoln and Barney on the scene was their own use of force statements, acknowledging they held him on the ground while he was being handcuffed. They did not aid or abet in the commission of a felony, Peterson ruled, because the defendants did not initiate a warrantless arrest.
“Here the defendants were acting under the authority and or of the law as law enforcement officers in the arrest and detention of a person, there’s nothing to show there was anything illegal about them performing their duty,” Peterson said.
Owens said his prosecution of the officers was not of them as police, but as individuals. Whether that stands under the law is unclear, as police officers have qualified immunity when acting in their official duty as police officers.
“Qualified immunity balances two important interests—the need to hold public officials accountable when they exercise power irresponsibly and the need to shield officials from harassment, distraction, and liability when they perform their duties reasonably,” according to Pearson v. Callahan.
Defense attorney Francis Springer said the directed verdict came as a great relief to the now-exonerated defendants.
“Both of these officers, and when I say they’re excellent officers, I’m not just saying that,” he said. “They never lost their faith in the justice system and today was why. Today there was justice.”
Videos of Judge Peterson’s statement and Owens’ press conference below.