Nsombi Lambright, ACLU of Mississippi, (601) 354-3408;
Kristy Bennett, ACLU of Mississippi, (601) 540-6642;

JACKSON - On Thursday, April 23, a Jackson Municipal Court Judge found ACLU Public Education Coordinator Brent Cox not guilty on charges of interfering with police officer duties and disorderly conduct. The case was tried by ACLU Staff Attorney, Kristy Bennett, on Monday, April 16th, 2009, in Jackson Municipal Court. Cox was arrested on September 14, 2007 after watching a Precinct Four officer question an individual in front of Rainbow Whole Foods in Jackson, Mississippi.

While observing, Cox was told to move further away from the interaction and obeyed that command while continuing to observe. After the questioning of the individual ended, Cox asked for the name and badge number of the officer and was arrested.

The ACLU supports the right of citizens to monitor police activity within a reasonable distance of the encounter. By passively observing police and documenting police misconduct, citizens help ensure that the rights of persons being detained are not violated during the encounter. Observing police also promotes government transparency and leads to improved police policies and practices. The right to observe police is guaranteed by the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution.

Arresting citizens for observing police activities is not only unconstitutional; it has a serious chilling effect on the ability of citizens to hold law enforcement accountable. By simply witnessing and documenting possible incidents of police misconduct, citizens can serve as a deterrent to police misconduct. Unfortunately, Cox's arrest is not an isolated incident. Law enforcement officers far too often arrest individuals who are monitoring police activity or who ask for officers' names and badge numbers.

The ACLU holds trainings to teach citizens how to lawfully monitor police activity. These trainings are part of a larger campaign to stop the abuse of power by officers by ensuring that law enforcement officers respect the Constitutional rights of citizens. Not only can police monitoring sent a message to law enforcement that the citizens they serve are paying attention, but it also helps to hold police departments accountable when they violate citizens rights as well as support against any unfounded abuse allegations when officers are abiding by the law.

The ACLU of Mississippi is also fighting against other unlawful police practices, such as racial profiling, and is working to establish civilian review boards within local communities. We are working towards the passage of legislation requiring law enforcement agencies to have policies prohibiting racial profiling and requiring agencies to collect data on the race and gender of individuals who are pulled over during traffic stops.

Cox was represented on this matter by ACLU Staff Attorney Kristy Bennett and ACLU Cooperating Attorney Chris Graves.