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Mississippi Goddamn

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Nothing should shock you about Mississippi, but a lot should outrage you and the complete lack of accountability for the state’s sheriffs for crimes they commit with inmates is yet another example. Great piece of reporting here at Mississippi Today.

As Marquise Tillman led deputies on a high-speed chase through rural Mississippi in March 2019, Sheriff Todd Kemp issued a blunt order over the radio: “Shut him down and beat his ass.”

When the Clarke County deputies caught Mr. Tillman, they did just that, he later alleged in a lawsuit. He said they pummeled and stomped on him while he was handcuffed, leaving him with a fractured eye socket and broken bones in his face and chest.

The sheriff denied giving the order. But it was captured on tape and described under oath by four of his deputies.

Such an explosive revelation might have roiled a community elsewhere in the country and led state or federal officials to investigate. But in Mississippi, it was largely ignored, even after the county paid Mr. Tillman an undisclosed amount to settle his claim.

There was no news coverage and no state investigation. In an interview, Sheriff Kemp said he had turned the case over to the state’s police agency. But the agency could find no record of having pursued it.

That is not unusual in Mississippi, where allegations like those leveled against Sheriff Kemp often go nowhere, an investigation by The New York Times and the Mississippi Center for Investigative Reporting at Mississippi Today has found.

The Times and Mississippi Today examined dozens of publicly available federal lawsuits that described severe brutality and other abuses of power, reviewing thousands of pages of court records and interviewing people involved in cases across the state.

At least 27 claims do not appear to have led to a state investigation, including accusations of rape, brutal assault and retaliation against sheriffs’ enemies.

Many of the lawsuits depicted incidents that had eyewitnesses or significant physical evidence. Some included transcripts of deputies admitting under oath to troubling conduct. All but five of the cases were settled, according to court files that do not disclose the financial terms.

The lawsuits underscored how many similar allegations have been leveled in the state over the past decade, especially in small-town jails. A man in Itawamba County said that in 2020 his jailers tied him to a chair, choked him and squeezed his genitals until he vomited. A woman in Bolivar County said that in 2016 a deputy held her arms behind her back and raped her in her cell. A man in Simpson County said that the sheriff in 2012, Kenneth Lewis, choked him and slammed his head against a cell wall until he passed out.

All of their lawsuits were settled. Attempts to reach former Sheriff Lewis for comment were unsuccessful.

I’m sure Mississippi Republicans will reform their sheriffs right around the time they start supporting Black voting.

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