Three Mississippi police officers have been charged with killing a Black man by body-slamming him to the ground and then beating him last year, the authorities said on Friday.
The three officers — Desmond Barney, Lincoln Lampley and Anthony Fox — were indicted this month on charges of second-degree murder in the death of George Robinson, 62, of Jackson, Miss.
The officers, who were all members of the Jackson Police Department at the time, caused Mr. Robinson’s death by pulling him from his car, throwing him headfirst onto the roadway pavement, and then striking and kicking him multiple times in the head and the chest, according to the indictment, issued by a grand jury in Hinds County, Miss. The indictment said the officers’ actions evinced a “depraved heart, regardless of human life.”
Jody E. Owens II, the district attorney in Hinds County, said the officers saw Mr. Robinson sitting in his car on Jan. 13, 2019, when they were canvassing a predominantly Black neighborhood in Jackson after a pastor, Anthony Longino, was fatally shot in a botched robbery outside his church hours earlier.
The officers, who are also Black, approached Mr. Robinson because they believed they had seen him dealing drugs with another person, although that person was never detained, Mr. Owens said.
When the officers ordered Mr. Robinson to get out of his car, he was slow to comply, perhaps because he had survived a stroke, Mr. Owens said. According to witness accounts, Mr. Owens said, officers then proceeded to assault Mr. Robinson.
Medical reports, including one from the state coroner, showed that Mr. Robinson died of blunt force trauma to the head and of a bleeding brain, Mr. Owens said. The reports also showed that several of Mr. Robinson’s ribs had been broken, Mr. Owens said.
Mr. Owens, a former lawyer at the Southern Poverty Law Center, said the case was among a number of languishing investigations that he had revived after taking over as district attorney in January.
“Poor, Black — it doesn’t make a difference,” he said. “Every life has value, and we have to treat all life the same.”
The three officers have posted bond and are free awaiting their next court date, Mr. Owens said.
Officer Lampley, 33, still works for the Jackson Police Department but has been placed on desk duty, according to his lawyer, Francis Springer.
“We feel really confident, once we’re able to exhibit the evidence we have, that these officers are going to be vindicated,” Mr. Springer said.
After Mr. Robinson’s death, Officers Barney, 31, and Fox, 35, were hired by the Police Department in nearby Clinton, Miss., according to that city’s mayor, Phil Fisher. He said both officers had been “assigned other duties within the department until this matter is resolved.”
Mr. Fisher said the Clinton Police Department hired the officers after the Jackson Police Department’s internal affairs division cleared them of wrongdoing and “multiple agencies looked into the incident and advised that no criminal conduct occurred.”
“I stand behind these two officers and believe they will be exonerated,” he said.
Paul Luckett, a lawyer for Officer Fox, said his client was innocent, and “we are preparing to mount a vigorous defense.”
Michael Cory, a lawyer for Officer Barney, said the three officers believe “there’s a lot more to the story, and they’re looking forward to their chance to be fully vindicated.”
Dennis C. Sweet III, a lawyer who represents Mr. Robinson’s family, said the indictment was “one place where it looks like we’re trying to get some justice for African-Americans who were brutally beaten by police officers.”
“It’s been 19 months,” he said, “but at least it’s getting done.”
The charges came amid intense scrutiny of police brutality after the killing in May of George Floyd in the custody of the Minneapolis police.
Mr. Robinson’s family has filed a civil suit against the City of Jackson, the three police officers and American Medical Response Inc., the ambulance company that treated Mr. Robinson at the scene and released him. Hours after Mr. Robinson was released, his girlfriend saw that he was losing consciousness and called another ambulance, the family’s lawyers said. He died at a hospital on Jan. 15, 2019.
The suit, filed in October 2019, claims that Mr. Robinson was wrongfully killed through use of “excessive, unreasonable and unjustifiable” force, and that he was denied the right to due process when he was seized from his car, according to court records.
“It was pretty egregious,” said Mr. Sweet, whose son Dennis C. Sweet IV also represents the Robinson family. “Mr. Robinson had blunt force trauma to the head, he had fractured ribs and we have eyewitnesses. It was in front of his home, on Jones Street.”
The younger Mr. Sweet said his firm was also representing the family of Mario Clark, another Black man who died after an encounter with the Jackson police.
“We’ve seen a common practice in this police department, and it seems to be a majority of the time in poor, Black communities,” he said. “You see it a lot in South Jackson and West Jackson.”
Mayor Chokwe Antar Lumumba of Jackson said on Friday that his administration was “committed to ensuring that Jacksonians have an accountable police department.”
Mr. Lumumba said the city adopted a policy in October 2018 of turning over all cases of people who died in the custody of the Jackson police to the district attorney for a grand jury review.
“The Hinds County grand jury indictments, issued today, begin another phase of the process,” Mr. Lumumba said. “In the full spirit of transparency, the administration will continue to monitor the situation and provide information to the public throughout each phase. We ask that you keep all those affected by this tragedy in your prayers.”