JACKSON, Miss. (AP) — A state judge in Mississippi dismissed murder charges Thursday against two Black police officers accused of body-slamming and beating a Black man.
The ruling by Hinds County Judge Faye Peterson ended the trial of former Jackson officers Desmond Barney and Lincoln Lampley after hearing prosecution witnesses but without hearing defense witnesses, news outlets reported.
Peterson, a former district attorney, said prosecutors failed to present evidence that the officers acted criminally against 62-year-old George Robinson on Jan. 13, 2019.
“There was nothing on its face that was illegal,” Peterson said, the Clarion Ledger reported. “The detention of a suspect is not a criminal act and there was no proof presented that they were conspiring.”
Witnesses who testified about the incident could not identify the officers, the judge noted.
An indictment alleged that they and a third officer took Robinson from his vehicle, slammed him to the pavement and repeatedly hit him in the head and chest. He died two days later.
It was not clear how Peterson’s decision would affect the case against Anthony Fox, which is before a different judge and has not yet gone to trial. He is also Black.
The officers worked for the Jackson Police Department at the time. Fox and Barney currently work for the Clinton Police Department. Lampley has been doing desk work in the Jackson Police Department but attorney Francis Springer said he expects Thursday’s decision will let him return to patrol duty, the newspaper reported.
The officers smiled and hugged their attorneys immediately after the ruling.
“They were looking at decades in jail, and they didn’t do anything wrong,” Springer told the newspaper. “Their stories never varied, and unfortunately, they weren’t able to get their story out until now.”
Hinds County District Attorney Jody Owens said the decision surprised him, WLBT-TV reported.
“Significant evidence was presented. … Three eyewitnesses identified that officers did body-slam Mr. Robinson. Medical professionals … acknowledged that Mr. Robinson died of blunt force trauma,” he said.
Robinson’s sister, Bettersten Wade, said she wasn’t going to hate anyone but did hate what happened to her brother.
The officers said Robinson failed to comply when asked to step out of his vehicle during a traffic stop.
Wade said he would have obeyed but was moving slowly because of a recent stroke, the station reported.
The family sued the city in 2019, and that suit is still in federal court, the newspaper reported.