Immigration raid, flood, elections and more topped 2019 news headlines

Published 2:46 pm Sunday, December 29, 2019

Mississippi residents’ lives in 2019 were disrupted by a large-scale immigration raid and prolonged flooding in the Delta. People mourned the deaths of two longtime elected officials, and voters chose a new governor.

A look at top stories of the year:

— Federal agents raided seven poultry processing plants in Mississippi on Aug. 7, arresting 680 mostly Latino workers in the largest workplace sting in the U.S. in at least a decade. The arrests disrupted the lives of workers’ families, including some children who were starting school when their parents were taken into custody.

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—Two-term Republican Lt. Gov. Tate Reeves won the governor’s race Nov. 5 by defeating four-term Democratic Attorney General Jim Hood. Republicans also won the last statewide office they didn’t already have when two-term state Treasurer Lynn Fitch was elected to succeed Hood as attorney general.

— Parts of the lower Mississippi Delta remained flooded for months, causing hardships for farmers. Water swamped 860 square miles (2,200 sq. kilometers) north of the Mississippi River city of Vicksburg, an area larger than the cities of New York and Los Angeles combined. High water along the Mississippi River also resulted in the opening of the Bonnet Carre spillway that protects New Orleans, and the inundation of fresh water in the Gulf of Mexico caused problems on beaches of the Mississippi Gulf Coast.

— In late November, Mississippi started selling lottery tickets for the first time, joining most other states that already had the games of chance.

— Former U.S. Sen. Thad Cochran, who brought billions of dollars to his home state of Mississippi as chairman of the powerful Appropriations Committee, died May 30 at age 81. Cochran was a Republican who served in the U.S. House six years before winning a Senate seat in 1978. He won his final term in a contentious 2014 election, and he retired in April 2018, amid health concerns. Another prominent politician, Democratic former Mississippi House Speaker Billy McCoy, died Nov. 12 at age 77.

— On Dec. 16, Curtis Flowers walked out of jail for the first time in more than 22 years after a judge set $250,000 for him. Flowers has been tried six times in the 1996 killings of four people at a Winona furniture store. Four convictions were overturned and two trials ended in mistrial. In June, the U.S. Supreme Court overturned Flowers’ 2010 conviction, saying the district attorney had improperly excluded African American residents as potential jurors. By the day of the bond hearing, District Attorney Doug Evans had not said whether he would try Flowers a seventh time.

— State College Board trustees on Oct. 4 abruptly cut short their process of searching for a new chancellor at the University of Mississippi. Students and faculty protested when trustees chose the state’s former commissioner of higher education , Glenn Boyce, who originally led the search and had said he would not be a candidate for the job. Throughout the year, Ole Miss also continued trying to distance itself from Old South imagery. Pro-Confederate groups from outside the university rallied at the monument Feb. 23, causing Ole Miss basketball players to kneel during the national anthem, in protest of the rally. On March 5, student government leaders adopted a resolution saying that a Confederate monument should be moved from the heart of the campus to a Confederate cemetery that is also on campus but in a remote spot. In December, state Department of Archives and History trustees approved plans for the move, and the College Board could consider the final level of approval in early 2020.

— Republican Gov. Phil Bryant, in March signed one of the strictest abortion laws in the nation. It would ban most abortions once a fetal heartbeat can be detected. That is at about six weeks, before many women even know they are pregnant. The state’s only abortion clinic sued the state. In May, a federal judge blocked the law from taking effect. A legal fight continued at year’s end. In December, the conservative 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that a 15-week abortion ban that Bryant signed into law in 2018 is unconstitutional, and Bryant said the state would appeal to the Supreme Court.

— After hearing extensive testimony in a lawsuit over Mississippi’s mental health system, U.S. District Judge Carlton Reeves said he will appoint an expert to oversee changes to the system. Reeves said attorneys for the federal government proved the state is doing too little to serve people outside the confinement of mental hospitals.

— Biloxi police officer Robert McKeithen was shot to death outside a police station May 5. One man, Darian Atkinson, was charged in the killing and several were charged for allegedly helping him after the fact. An Oxford police officer, Matthew Kinne, was charged with capital murder after a woman with whom he was romantically involved, Dominique Clayton, was found shot to death in her home May 19.