JACKSON, MS. - The American Civil Liberties Union of Mississippi today announced a settlement in a lawsuit brought on behalf of Otis Ashford and his sister, Dell Jones, who were brutally assaulted by Moss Point Police Department officers in 2008. The settlement includes an agreement by the Moss Point Police Department to implement reforms including updating officer training to include conflict resolution, the appropriate use of tasers, and the right of individuals to observe police officers while the officers are performing their duties.
The assault occurred when Moss Point police officers entered Jones' home without a warrant. Ashford was beaten with a police radio, sprayed with pepper spray and tasered by police. Jones was sprayed with pepper spray as she called 911. Ashford was hospitalized for 24 hours and incurred thousands of dollars of medical expenses related to the assault.
"I never want another sister to have to watch the police beating up her brother," said Jones. "What happened to my brother and me was horrifying. I'm pleased the Moss Point Police Department has agreed to improve training for its officers. This must never happen again to anyone in Moss Point."
The ACLU of Mississippi learned of the assault while conducting a town hall forum in the Mississippi Gulf Coast region. After speaking with Jones and Ashford and reviewing photos of the assault that Jones took with her cell phone, the ACLU chose to represent Ashford and Jones for violation of their constitutional rights. The Moss Point Police Department has also agreed to evaluate, and revise as necessary, internal department investigation procedures to ensure that each citizen complaint is thoroughly investigated and appropriate sanctions are in place for violations.
"Police exist to protect, not violate, our rights," said Bear Atwood, ACLU of Mississippi Legal Director. "Jones and Ashford were in a private home, engaged in no criminal activity, yet Moss Point police officers stormed into the home without a warrant where they proceeded to savagely beat Ashford while pepper spraying his sister. No monetary settlement can ever compensate Ashford and Jones for that night. The ACLU applauds, however, the Moss Point Police Department for agreeing to reform its training and internal investigation policies.
"Dell Jones and Otis Ashford are to be commended," said Nsombi Lambright, ACLU of Mississippi Executive Director. "By coming forward, they exposed incidents of violence against citizens by law enforcement that happen every day in this country. This settlement should send a clear message to every law enforcement agency in Mississippi that citizens will no longer be silent about racial profiling and police brutality."
A PDF copy of the original complaint filed in U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Mississippi can be found HERE.
About the ACLU of Mississippi:
The ACLU of Mississippi is a non-profit, non-partisan organization whose mission is to defend the freedoms guaranteed to all by the Bill of Rights of the U.S. Constitution. The ACLU-MS' work includes community forums where individuals learn about their constitutional rights when encountering law enforcement, and how to protect those rights from violation.