A federal judge kicked a civil rights case back down to Hinds County Circuit Court this week after finding three officers were protected by qualified immunity.
In the case against former JPD officers Anthony Fox and Desmond Barney and current JPD officer Lincoln Lampley, federal civil rights allegations had been brought to the court by the family of George Robinson, who died sometime after an encounter with the officers. In an order filed Monday, Judge Carlton Reeves ruled in favor of a summary judgement requested by the officers’ representation, saying there were no federal civil rights violations involved in Robinson’s arrest.
Reeves said he would not speak for the state courts, sending the case back to the Hinds County Circuit Court.
The incident occurred in January 2019, when officers were canvassing a neighborhood looking for suspects in the shooting death of a local pastor. Fox observed what appeared to be a drug transaction and approached the vehicle. According to the officers’ statements, Robinson did not step out of the vehicle when asked, and refused to show his hands. That resulted in Fox and Lampley removing him from the vehicle.
Officer statements say Robinson successfully swallowed something as they removed him from the car. They laid him on the ground face-down, they said, resulting in an abrasion on the front of his forehead.
Robinson’s team brought witnesses in the trial of Lampley and Barney, which took place earlier this year, who said the officers punched and kicked Robinson after slamming him to the ground. Their statements in court ended up being inconsistent, and none of them could even place Barney at in the direct vicinity of Robinson.
Judge Faye Peterson dismissed the case with prejudice, saying there was no substantial evidence that the officers’ actions led to Robinson’s death hours later, when he had returned to the Mustang Motel and had visitors in and out of his room.
Fox’s case is still pending, as Hinds County Circuit Judge Adrienne Wooten refused to consolidate it with Barney and Lampley’s.
In the written Federal order, Reeves stated his reasons that he ruled in favor of the summary judgement after going over both sides of the depositions as presented by the plaintiff and the defense. He said the plaintiff’s side had primarily relied on witness testimony taken by plaintiffs’ investigator Tyrone Lewis. Reeves ruled that Lewis lacks personal knowledge of the case, the statements are hearsay, and were not sworn statements.
In the request for the summary judgement, Reeves ruled that while Robinson’s side does establish that there are conflicting statements between their report and the officers’ reports, and that those conflicts are troubling, they still do not sufficiently carry the burden that shows any violation occurred that was not covered by qualified immunity. Reeves did reiterate the fact that he has personal qualms about qualified immunity as a doctrine, but said it’s still the court’s to uphold the law and that there was no adequate evidence given by the plaintiffs to say there were violations.
To the complaint the plaintiffs brought that the officers were acting within their official capacity, Reeves states that the “official capacity” argument takes issue with the position, not the individuals, and thus should be directed at the city of Jackson.
Robinson’s camp had also brought issue with what they called the city’s “jump out” policy as a municipal liability, saying that officers use tactics where they drive up and “jump out” of a vehicle and arrest people. The court quoted the plaintiffs’ verbage: “City of Jackson knew of, approved, and otherwise directed the use of ‘jump out’ squads to detain, harass, and question individuals located within a target area.”
Reeves ruled that even if it’s believed that JPD’s jump-out policy is unconstitutional, plaintiffs have provided no evidence that this policy was the “moving force” behind Robinson’s constitutional injury.
“In other words,” Reeves writes. “Plaintiffs have not shown that Robinson’s injuries were sustained because of the execution of the jump-out policy.”
Residents of the neighborhood were also aware that the officers were there in the area questioning people about the murder of a local pastor who had been shot to death earlier that day.
“Citizens in the neighborhood were aware of this fact. Indeed, Arnold, plaintiffs’ eyewitness, spoke with JPD regarding the murder suspect’s location on that day,” Reeves writes. “Plaintiffs have failed to produce any evidence to the contrary. Even assuming Jones Avenue was a target neighborhood, the ‘municipal policy must be affirmatively linked to the constitutional violation.'”
The last assertion by Robinson’s team was that the city of Jackson had failed to properly train and supervise their officers, which Reeves said was also unfounded.
The case now goes back to Hinds County Circuit Court.