The Rankin County Sheriff's Office has been at the center of a series of violent incidents.
In one case, the family of Pierre Woods is suing Rankin police for killing Woods in 2019.
Rankin County Sheriff Bryan Bailey is now fighting for immunity from that lawsuit.
A Mississippi sheriff — who oversees a department in which multiple deputies have been convicted of torturing and sexually assaulting Black men — is fighting for qualified immunity in yet another case where his deputies are accused of using excessive force.
A state judge denied Sheriff Bryan Bailey immunity in March after a lawsuit named him and a dozen other officers for the wrongful death of Pierre Woods, a mentally disabled Black man who police shot and killed in 2019 in Rankin County, Mississippi.
"Qualified immunity" is a legal doctrine that excludes public officials from being sued based on actions that they take while in their official capacity. Critics say the doctrine was designed to shield police from liability.
Bailey appealed the decision to Mississippi's Fifth Circuit Court, which caused the lower court last month to issue an indefinite stay in the case, pending the decision of the appeals court.
The Rankin County Sheriff's Department, under Bailey's leadership, has been at the center of multiple acts of violence in recent years. A jury convicted five officers in August for torturing and sexually assaulting two Black men. Five people also died after interactions with Rankin County deputies during an eight-month span in 2021. Insider sued the sheriff's department to obtain records related to three of those deaths.
Bailey is up for reelection in November and is running unopposed.
The shooting of Pierre Woods in Rankin County, Mississippi
Police responded to Pierre Woods's home in February 2019 after a call came in that he was firing a gun on the property where he was staying, the Associated Press reported at the time.
After they arrived, police said Woods fired more shots. They said law enforcement attempted to negotiate with Woods for more than an hour before using tear gas to force him from the home, at which point they shot him multiple times, killing him.
Dris Mitchell and Vanessa Barrett, two women who have children with Woods, filed a wrongful death lawsuit against Bailey and the other officers involved in 2021.
Attorneys for Mitchell and Barrett said Woods was "physically disoriented and visually impaired" from tear gas when he ran to the front door of his house with his hands above his head, according to the lawsuit. The attorneys said Woods had a gun in his hand when he ran to the door but threw the gun to the ground as soon as he got outside.
According to appeals court documents filed on August 14 by attorneys for Barrett and Mitchell, Bailey was "solely responsible" for supervising the Rankin County "Special Response Team" that day.
Bailey said he heard Woods fire three gunshots inside the house. He then heard officers "return fire" while he was hiding behind a response team vehicle, the document states.
According to the document, Bailey said he did not instruct the officers to start shooting, did not see the shooting, and "never fired a shot."
The document says Bailey claims he told officers to "cease fire" as soon as he saw Woods lying on the ground.
According to the filing, Mitchell and Barrett's attorneys say Bailey allowed the officers to shoot Woods even though he no longer posed a threat.
"Bailey gave the defendant officers authority to shoot Woods, positioned himself where he could no longer see Woods, and allowed the officers to continue to shoot Woods after he fell to the ground and clearly was no longer a threat before he issued the command to "cease fire," the brief says.
When Bailey was asked in a deposition about whether the sheriff's office trains its officers to stop shooting after a threat is over, he responded: "No, ma'am, I don't — I don't guess we train them to stop shooting," Bailey said. "When the threat is over with is when they stop shooting."
History of violence at the Rankin County Sheriff's Office
The department overseen by Bailey has a disturbing history of violence.
Five Rankin Sheriff's deputies pleaded guilty on August 3 to federal charges related to the attack on two Black men earlier in the year.
That group called themselves the "goon squad" for their willingness to secretly use excessive force. Without a warrant, the team broke into the home of Michael Corey Jenkins and Eddie Terrell Parker in Braxton, Mississippi on January 24. The officers then beat and sexually assaulted the two men before one officer — Hunter Elward — eventually shot Jenkins in the mouth, according to court documents obtained by Insider.
Two of the convicted "goon squad" officers, Elward and Christian Dedmon, were also present during Woods's shooting in 2019, according to the lawsuit.
Cameron, a Black man, died while in the custody of the sheriff's department in July 2021. Cameron's mother told Insider police beat and tased him and knelt on his back for 15 minutes while he complained he could not breathe.
Jackson died in May 2021 after a sheriff's deputy arrested him while he was experiencing hallucinations and refused to take him to the hospital, his family told Insider. In August 2021, deputies shot McKinley, Cameron's high-school classmate, inside his grandparents' home.
In December 2021, while responding to a call of a drug overdose, deputies also shot and killed Robert Rushton, who police said was armed with two knives. A fifth man, Adam Coker, died in the Rankin County Jail in September 2021.
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