Here’s an update you probably didn’t want to hear: A Mississippi cop who apparently planted evidence at the scene of a teen shooting six years ago managed to evade charges. It’s the rough reality in a nation where cop, after cop, after cop, seems to get away with killing Black people.
News reports described Willie Lee Bingham, Jr as “shot by the deputy after allegedly resisting arrest and being armed,” but news reports usually skew toward police accounts. There was a whole lot more to that story that didn’t come out until later.
Bingham and his Cleveland, Mississippi, friends were looking to burglarize vehicles at Faurecia Automotive Seating when their presence at the business caught the attention of a county patrol vehicle. What should have amounted to a rap sheet and a court fine escalated quickly when the young men fled the scene in their own vehicles and were pursued by deputies. According to Jackson attorney Dennis Sweet—who represented Bingham’s mother Latauna Hill in her civil suit against the Bolivar County Sheriff’s Office—the vehicle chase went on for about six miles before the suspects pulled over and some occupants, including Bingham, leaped from the car and fled on foot.
Police on the scene had already nabbed some of Bingham’s friends because they’d never fled the vehicle. Apprehending Bingham should have been as easy as pressuring answers from captured suspects. In a world with smart cops, officers get your address from your arrested friends and then meet you at your home just as you’re running in through the back door.
“They already had one of them captured. It would have taken only a short time for them to get Bingham’s name from the men they had in custody,” Sweet told the Mississippi-Branch NAACP, during a 2013 interview.
What happened instead was Bolivar County Sheriff’s Deputy Walter Grant taking aim and firing at fleeing suspects. He plugged Bingham just behind the ear as the young man was running away. Apparently, that counts as “resisting arrest and being armed” in officer testimony. What was Bingham armed with, you ask? Well, minutes after killing him, Grant apparently felt Bingham’s corpse should be armed with the police baton that Grant clandestinely laid down next to the body—because car burglars always carry police-issue batons when they go burgling.
U.S. juries are frequently friendly to incriminated officers, and rarely convict them for the grossest negligence or malevolence. That rule also holds true for Grant. Grant, who is Black, was indicted in 2015 on state manslaughter charges and was tried twice in 2015, but both trials resulted in mistrials when jurors were unable to reach a unanimous verdict. State court records show the judge remanded the case to the files in 2016, which is an informal way of saying prosecutors gave up trying to convict him.
The Department of Justice launched an investigation against the deputy in 2017, which led to charges of evidence tampering. However, that federal case ended a few months ago when prosecutors asked Senior U.S. District Judge Neil Biggers to kill it. Assistant U.S. Attorney Robert Mims wrote in a court filing that Grant is too sick to travel to a federal detention facility for a psychological exam to determine if he’s mentally competent to stand trial.
Grant’s lawyer claims that Grant is being treated for sores on his feet that are verging on gangrene, while Judge Biggers says Grant is in no condition to travel by “routine airlift,” and needs special airplane accommodations to be taken to a detention facility.
Family members did file a civil suit against Grant and the Bolivar County Sherriff’s Department, and the department settled the suit in 2016 for an undisclosed amount. But the fact that Grant limped away free on his putrid feet leaves future police shooting victims with no clear answers.
Jaribu Hill is the executive director of the Mississippi Worker’s Center for Human Rights and founder of the Southern Human Rights Organizing Conference. Hill said she has been advocating for the elimination of police violence since the 1990s and feels she is now seeing some return on all that hard work.
“Because of the energy and the passion and clarity around these issues, and the courage of citizens, I think (police violence) is now at the height of exposure. There was a groundswell that began several decades ago when I first started out … and what these young people have done, and the people in the Black Lives Matter movement have done, is they’ve picked up where that earlier movement began and pushed it further,” Hill said. “They are consistently in the streets whenever this violence happens.”
Some signs of progress have been noted over the last few years. Opposition from organizations such as the Black Youth Project (BYP) 100 and Assata’s Daughters helped push Illinois State Attorney Anita Alvarez out of her re-election bid for Cook County prosecutor after she failed to charge police officers who had shot and killed at least 68 people. Down in Florida, groups like The Dream Defenders and others helped end Angela Corey’s tenure as a state attorney, after Corey failed to convict the murderer of Trayvon Martin.
Hill said sister movements such as BYP100 and #SayHerName have all managed to expand the reach of the argument to violence against Black women and LGBT members who have been assaulted or murdered by members of law enforcement. Police, she said, are now turning on their bodycams out of necessity, demonstrations against violent incidents are large and fearless, and the media is more onboard with giving rallies the attention they deserve. She frets, however, that there is still so much further left to go.
“These groups are playing a huge role,” Hill said. “We’re seeing more accountability and more monitoring and litigation, but we sure can’t say it hasn’t gone away. It’s still at an unnervingly epidemic proportion.”