By The Vanguard Staff
BROOKHAVEN, MS – After a grand jury cited a number of issues within the police department, including a “lack of professionalism,” the city of Brookhaven hired an independent investigator in August, according to NBC News.
“The Mississippi police department that recently caused a mistrial in a case that drew national attention has competency issues in its investigations unit that impede the department’s effectiveness, an independent investigator concluded,” the news network reported.
“In mid-August, a little over a month after the grand jury issued its report, a judge declared a mistrial in the case of a white father and his son who were accused of chasing and shooting at a Black FedEx driver who had dropped off a package at a home after it was revealed that a Brookhaven police detective withheld evidence,” NBC News wrote.
William Harmening, a retired law enforcement officer, was hired and completed a review of the department, Mayor Joe Cox said in a statement Thursday, and two criminal justice professors—one at the University of Mississippi and the other at the University of Southern Mississippi—also reviewed all aspects of the independent probe, Cox said.
NBC News reported Harmening found officers have “been hired with a criminal background and subsequent name change,” “with a known addiction to prescription drugs” and “even with a DUI in their past.”
“Less than quality hires will inevitably result in short-term employment and constant turnover,” he wrote, noting the department has two conflicting and “problematic” disciplinary policies, neither of which it appears is being followed, which “creates a legal morass that is worse than having no policy at all.”
NBC News said a scathing report in July said that after having considered dozens of criminal cases presented by the Brookhaven Police Department, it found that officers “poorly investigate their cases,” that the department has a habit of witness-blaming, that it is complacent, that it “does not complete investigations in a timely manner” and that it “is arresting individuals without sufficient probable cause,” among other issues.
Harmening said he was not allowed access to certain requested items including personnel and investigation files, but the police force was “cordial, however.”
The department serves about 11,600 residents in the city about 55 miles south of the state capital, Jackson. It had 27 officers, including its chief, as of last month.
He cited a number of issues within the department, including “a severe manpower shortage,” “a confusing and inefficient command structure,” “a lack of officer training,” “competency issues” in its investigations unit and “a lack of integration with the two prosecutors’ offices they work with.”
Harmening also recommended creating a police committee within the Board of Aldermen, composed of the mayor, two board members and the city attorney, and said NBC News, faulted the department’s hiring practices, writing that it “does not currently utilize a comprehensive and standardized hiring methodology.”
Harmening wrote “there is probably not an issue in the police department “that needs more immediate attention than its Investigations Unit” and cited the mistrial of the two white men in the attempted murder case, said NBC.
“A judge declared a mistrial in the case of Brandon Case and his father, Gregory Case, after Brookhaven Police Detective Vincent Fernando acknowledged under oath that he did not give the prosecution or the defense a videotaped statement police had taken from D’Monterrio Gibson, a former FedEx driver whom the men were accused of shooting at and chasing in January 2022. Gibson was not injured,” reported NBC News.
The case drew national attention and comparisons to the murder of Ahmaud Arbery in Georgia in 2020.