‘I wish they would just leave me alone so I can do my job’ Mississippi police chief says in response to scathing grand jury report

Published 9:58 pm Saturday, July 22, 2023

“I wish they would just leave me alone so I can do my job,” Brookhaven Police Chief Kenneth Collins said Friday in response to a letter presented to the mayor and Board of Aldermen from the grand jury earlier in the week.

The scathing grand jury report cited systemic problems and a “lack of accountability” in the Brookhaven Police Department. The board and Mayor Joe Cox discussed the findings in executive session during their meeting.  Brookhaven aldermen each declined to comment Friday on the matter, though Alderman-at-large Don Underwood said, “The grand jury report speaks for itself.”

District Attorney Dewitt “Dee” Bates also declined to elaborate on the report.

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“Every grand jury has a final report and interim reports they file showing the dynamics over that session,” Bates said. “This attorney’s office doesn’t have any comments other than that’s their report.”

In the report, the grand jury called out the Brookhaven Police Department and Chief Kenneth Collins for, among other things, “poorly” investigating cases and operating with “a lack of accountability within the department.”

“Department employees gave conflicting statements to the grand jury of facts,” the report states going on to add “the department does not complete investigations in a timely manner.”

The report also cites a lack of professionalism within the department, “a habit of witness-blaming and complacency.” The report also states that the department fails to complete investigations after an original investigator leaves the department.

Citing a lack of training, the report also states that the department fails to utilize technology to its advantage.

Moreover, the report states that the department “is arresting individuals without sufficient probable cause.”

Bates said interim and final reports are common practice for grand juries, giving updates during a session and findings at the conclusion of a jury term.

In Mississippi, grand juries are authorized by law to investigate whether a crime has been committed, and whether the defendant can be identified as the perpetrator of that crime. Grand jurors sit on a panel of 16 to 23, generally serving one to three days every other month for a total of one year.

The grand jury hears only one side of a case, from the District Attorney and/or other prosecuting attorneys, and must determine whether there is sufficient evidence or probable cause to require the accused to stand trial. Jurors are instructed by Mississippi Criminal Law that “no public purpose would be served in indicting a person when it appears to you that the evidence is not sufficient to sustain a conviction. Unjust or unfounded indictments should not be returned against anyone. On the other hand, it is equally important that indictments be returned against those who, upon the evidence, appear to be probably guilty of the commission of a crime” (Appendix – Sample Charge to Grand Jury, Miss. R. Crim. P. 34).

There is precedent for grand juries to report on concerns regarding law enforcement processes as part of the jurors’ observations and instructions.

“Anytime the city is posed with a report such as this we take it seriously,” Mayor Cox said. “I and the board will discuss with the proper parties and other independent sources any plans the city may take in the future.”

This grand jury also issued indictments for 28 persons; continued 15 cases for further investigation; moved to withdraw one case; remanded two to Municipal Court; and also refused to indict 18 individuals.

The next grand jury will be in August and its final report will be published in December.

Collins said the city’s board and the police department must all work together.

“We were elected as city officials to work for the best interests of its citizens,” he said. “I just wish they would help me make this town as great as it can be. … Some think it’s about control and power, it should be about service. True power comes when you’re a servant.”

“It doesn’t matter if you’re black or white, Brookhaven is about standing up for what’s right,” Collins said. “The good aldermen need to stand up and stop this foolishness.”