LAUREL, Miss. - Two Mississippi police officers have been fired -- and could face criminal charges -- following an investigation into claims that they beat a black man, kicking him in the face several times, after he turned around from a police checkpoint earlier this month and led them on a high-speed chase.
James Barnett, 36, of Laurel, told WDAM in Moselle that he was injured so badly he cannot currently work and will require surgery to his eye. His nose was also broken.
Photos taken by the news station show Barnett’s face bruised and battered, his right eye bloodshot.
Barnett said he was driving early the morning of May 16 when he came upon a driver’s license checkpoint being conducted by the Laurel Police Department. He said he turned around because he was driving without a license.
Two of the officers at the checkpoint followed him.
Barnett admitted to leading the officers on a high-speed chase for about 20 miles before stopping.
“As I was getting out, they had their guns drawn on me, telling me to get out with my hands out and get on the ground,” Barnett told the news station. “So, I laid flat on the ground, face-down (and) they came up continuously kicking me in my face.”
Barnett said the officers, both of whom are white, stopped kicking him only when a Jasper County sheriff’s deputy arrived at the scene. He said the officers took him to a hospital, where they continued to taunt and harass him.
At that point, four additional officers were there as well. All six stood around his bed, he said.
“I (was) nervous because I’m thinking it’s going to be the end of my life in there,” Barnett said. “So, I played like I was asleep -- my eyes closed.”
Laurel police Capt. Tommy Cox, who held a brief news conference Monday with Laurel Mayor Johnny Magee, said supervisors realized quickly something about Barnett’s arrest was not right.
“It became apparent to the supervisors on duty that there was a problem with the manner in which the arrest occurred,” Cox said at the news conference, streamed on Facebook by WDAM. “It has always been the policy of LPD that all use-of-force events are reviewed by several levels of supervisors and administration.”
An internal investigation began the morning of Barnett’s arrest and was completed the following day, Cox said. The findings of the investigation resulted in the firing of the two officers, whose names were not released.
The Mississippi Bureau of Investigation is conducing an outside review of the case to determine if criminal charges are warranted, Cox said. Body camera and dashboard camera footage are being withheld until the investigation is complete.
“The officers and administration of LPD take these kinds of allegations very seriously,” Cox said. “It should be noted that the internal investigation was initiated only hours after the incident, before any media attention, social media posts or even a formal complaint from the other individual involved.”
Barnett took to Facebook the day after his arrest, posting graphic photos of his injuries and demanding justice. He called the officers “low-life, sorry excuses for human beings” and said he was thankful God let him survive the beating.
“I wouldn’t wish this on NOBODY,” Barnett wrote. “One even had the nerve to ask me, ‘How did those steel toes feel, boy,’ trying to get a rise out of me, but I just laid there and prayed.”
He wrote that he had never been so afraid in his life.
“I will not let this go. I don’t (want) this to happen to anyone else,” Barnett wrote.
Cox declined to say Monday if the department had received previous complaints about either officer. He also declined to speculate on why they decided to follow Barnett, whose name was not made public at the news conference, when he turned around at the checkpoint.
Magee praised the department’s handling of the incident.
“We have handled the situation as we do. It’s said that police can’t police themselves, but in certain instances, they can, and this is evidence of that,” the mayor said.
Barnett pleaded guilty to resisting arrest in his first court appearance, WDAM reported. He is still scheduled to appear in court next month, at which time he said he plans to fight the charge.
“I just want justice,” Barnett told the news station. “I want what’s right, done. They (did) me wrong, so something has to be done about that.
“If you’re working for the law, do right by the law. Don’t uphold the law by trying to take the law into your own hands.”
© 2018 Cox Media Group.