The City of Jackson sent out a short, cryptic press statement at 5:12 p.m. Wednesday, indicating that an older man may have died from an encounter with Jackson police on Sunday, Jan. 13, after a low-level misdemeanor stop.
“The City of Jackson has been made aware of the death of a citizen after a field release arrest made by JPD. While no one has come forward and no complaint has been made at this time, we believe that the circumstances are serious enough to warrant a thorough investigation," the release said.
City spokeswoman Candice Cole then confirmed in a return email that "a field release arrest" is jargon for a low-level misdemeanor arrest where police release the suspect with a court date, much as one might get with a traffic violation.
After the City's ominous press release, WLBT reported that the Jackson Police Department was not aware of the situation. Soon afterward, however, WLBT has updated its short report with a video of Police Chief James Davis, looking shaken, addressing the charge. In the press conference, Davis said police are investigating the allegations of a "death of someone at the hands of a Jackson police officer," during a misdemeanor arrest involving at least one officer working with the canine unit on Jones Street in the Washington Addition. He said no one had filed a complaint as of Wednesday night.
"We started our own investigation," Davis said, also confirming that the incident happened while police looked for the killers of a preacher in the Washington Addition Sunday morning.
George Robinson Beaten by JPD?
A search of Facebook reveals more details of the allegations. Acquaintances of the man, who died Tuesday night at the University of Mississippi Medical Center, posted outrage on the social-media site as early as Tuesday morning, claiming that he died after Jackson police beat him up. They identified him as George Robinson, with one posting a photo of him, with some alleging that an officer might have beaten him with a flashlight.
"I'm hearing George Robinson who is 61yrs old was beaten by Jackson police officer and wasn't charged with anything he is suffering from brain hemorrhage and is on life support," one local man posted Tuesday. "Another black man falling victim to the hands of the police... Praying for you George." (Robinson was actually 62.)
Several posted that they heard Robinson was brain-dead on Tuesday.
Jackson police officers have shot a growing list of local people in Jackson since Mayor Chokwe A. Lumumba, who campaigned locally and speaks nationally on police and criminal-justice reform, became mayor in July 2017. However, he has refused, to date, to release names of the police officers who have shot citizens since he has been mayor, even after convening a task force that met for months after this newspaper's reporting and multiple editorials raised the issue. After fits and starts, the task force eventually recommended that the capital city follow national best practices of releasing officer names within 72 hours of an officer-involved shooting.
JPD confirmed to the Jackson Free Press that three of the 84 homicides in Jackson in 2018, which also includes three justifiable homicides, were by police officers, although the City has not released their names. This newspaper reported Tuesday that this is the city's highest number of homicides since late in the crack era of the 1990s.
Also, as this story published, police were on the scene of what is probably the city's 11th homicide of 2019, if the death of Robinson is indeed ruled a homicide.
Homicides spiked in Jackson to its highest point in decades in 2018 with 84 total, or 78 without the three officer-involved shootings or the justifiable homicides included.
U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions' Project EJECT is a controversial blast from the past.
Since December 2017, the City has participated in the federal "Project Eject," a version of the old Project Safe Neighborhoods policing approach that criminologists warn can make crime worse, including by using arrest sweeps to shake up criminal groups on the streets without proper planning. The strategy, criminologists say, usually disparately affects African Americans by the time of imprisonment, despite Mississippi's growing number of white gang members who are often not prosecuted in equivalent ways.
JPD Will Not Identify Multiple Officers Who Shot People Since 2017
Earlier Wednesday, before the news on Robinson broke, the Jackson Free Press sent the City of Jackson spokeswoman a letter requesting a list of the names of JPD officers who shot people since July 2017, names this newspaper starting pursuing over a year ago.
Sgt. Roderick Holmes, the police spokesman, wrote back without a list of the names, telling this newspaper to go through the City's electronic system. That often means delayed records and excessive "research" costs even though the City is supposed to provide readily available information on request to citizens and media.
"I received your records request letter," Holmes wrote. "Unfortunately, open records request are submitted electronically via the City of Jackson’s website. Usually, depending on the type of record(s) requested, the information will also be returned electronically to the requestor."
It seems clear that the City does not plan to provide the names of officers who shoot people without a citizen or media outlet jumping through hoops that will likely take far more than another 72 hours for a response after many months of task-force meetings have already delayed the release of officer names. We will report them the second we get the names.
'It Could Be One of Us Next'
A full archive of the JFP's "Preventing Violence" series, supported by grants from the Solutions Journalism Network. Photo of Zeakyy Harrington by Imani Khayyam.
Meantime, Jacksonians on Facebook show signs of growing distrust over the spate of policing violence since Lumumba took office in July 2017.
"Our Father in HEAVEN sees all things and that police will be held accountable, it might not be by the system but he has to answer to God who sees all things. My Prayers are with all involved. May God send healing to the young man beaten," one person wrote about Robinson's apparent death.
"Dam man who next it could be one of us next," another man posted.
"For real enough is enough we got to come together and address this," the original poster added.
Still another expressed the growing distrust of local police that lack of transparency over their actions brings: "But they are the ones who serve and protect. If its like that who needs their protection."
Robinson apparently was already at UMMC when Mayor Lumumba and JPD Chief James Davis led a press conference Tuesday to try to ease people's minds over a murder of a preacher and a teenager on Sunday, but did not mention the case if they knew about it then.
In City Hall Tuesday, the mayor told reporters that police cannot go into the minds of would-be shooters and stop them from killing. He also emphasized that more gun control is needed and that the City and State are working together on a $4-million surveillance center and system for Jackson.
The mayor added that alternative prevention methods, such as credible messengers, are necessary to augment the work of police.
Still, the Jackson community seems to be confronting a growing sense that the City could do more to stop the violence among the men and women in JPD uniforms.
Correction: The original story Wednesday stated that Jackson had seen eight homicides so far in 2019 as of Wednesday night. Sgt. Holmes confirmed today that the number is actually 10, not including Robinson.
Also, George Robinson was 62 when he died, not 61 as previously reported.
This is a developing story. We will update it as more details emerge. Email firstname.lastname@example.org with additional information. Also see jacksonfreepress.com/policeshootings for more on officer-involved shootings in Jackson.