NAACP claims excessive force during traffic stop

Published 8:00 pm Thursday, July 5, 2012

The Lawrence County NAACP is speaking out about an incident its leaders describe as the latest use of excessive force by Lawrence County law enforcement.

     At a July 2 press conference, the Lawrence County NAACP discussed the alleged beating of a Prentiss man by law enforcement during a traffic stop in Lawrence County.

     Alex Gray, 27, of 32 Gray Lane, was stopped on Highway 84 outside Monticello on June 2 about 1 a.m.

Subscribe to our free email newsletter

Get the latest news sent to your inbox

     Lawrence County NAACP president the Rev. Eugene Bryant, court records and law enforcement officials agree on this much. Officers with the Lawrence County Sheriff’s Office and Monticello Police Department were present during the stop.

     Bryant acknowledged Gray has been charged with a DUI, but says officers went far beyond what was needed to subdue Gray.

     “Witnesses state (law enforcement) got him out of the car, they got him on the ground, they handcuffed him, and they began beating him mercilessly,” Bryant said.

     The alleged beating was witnessed by people in nearby homes and by a person in a car behind Gray, Bryant said.

     Gray was present at Monday’s press conference, but is not speaking about the incident on the advice of his attorney, Bryant said. Bryant could not identify Gray’s attorney.

     Gray had to be sent to the University of Mississippi Medical Center as a result of injuries he received, Bryant claimed. He made available pictures allegedly taken of Gray following the beating that show his face swollen and bruised.

     According to Lawrence County Justice Court records, Gray has been charged with two felony counts: DUI third offense and simple assault of an officer.

     The assault charge should be immediately dropped, Bryant said.

     Gray is also charged with a number of misdemeanors, according to records, including an open container violation, failure to yield to blue lights, possession of liquor in a dry county, resisting arrest, disorderly conduct, public profanity, careless driving, running a stop sign, improper turn with no signal and driving with suspended license.

     The FBI is investigating the incident. Lawrence County Sheriff Joel Thames and Monticello Police Chief David Stanley declined to offer specific comments while the FBI investigation is ongoing.

     “Until I get a final report back from them, I’m not going to comment,” Thames said.

     Stanley echoed those remarks.

     However, Thames made it clear he sees to no basis to Bryant’s charges.

     “I am not going to justify with an answer the lies and false fabrications of Eugene Bryant,” Thames said.

     According to Thames and Stanley, neither Gray nor his family members have filed a formal complaint of misconduct.

     Thames said the FBI contacted his department and he sent a report back. He hasn’t yet heard back from the FBI.

     Stanley said a third party he could not identify contacted the Mississippi attorney general’s office, which referred the matter to the FBI.

     Stanley said if someone feels they’ve been the victim of misconduct or abuse by any of his officers, that person should contact Stanley to file a formal complaint.

     However, Bryant said filing local complaints hasn’t gotten results.

     “They probably won’t receive a formal complaint because we don’t think that will do any good,” Bryant said. “We have filed complaints before and nothing ever comes of them.”

     Bryant said he plans to request a joint meeting with Stanley, Thames and Monticello Mayor Dave Nichols.

     Bryant said the Lawrence County Sheriff’s Office has exhibited a pattern of excessive force. He pointed to an incident last year that resulted in two Lawrence County deputies being convicted in Lincoln County Justice Court on charges of trespassing and disturbing the peace.

     The court found Scott Stormo and Christian Davis came to Lincoln County while investigating a theft and came onto a man’s property with no warrant or cause. Stormo and Davis filed notices of appeal to have their justice court convictions heard in circuit court, but have taken no action since to have the appeal put before a judge.

     Bryant said he would like to see a citizen’s review board put into place in Lawrence County and the formulation of stronger polices governing the use of force.