Knowing that a police officer would go to prison for killing his 62-year-old brother did not ease Bettersten Wade’s pain. But it helped that someone was responsible.

Then Mississippi Attorney General Lynn Fitch asked a judge last week to throw out the officer’s 2022 conviction, siding with him over the district attorney who prosecuted him. The unusual move strengthened the officer’s case before the Mississippi Court of Appeals. And it left Wade angry and hurt.

“It means that she doesn’t care about my brother,” Wade said of Fitch’s motion. “She is showing that she doesn’t have any kind of feelings for my brother. The only thing she has feelings for is a police officer.»

It’s not just Wade who’s upset. Hinds County District Attorney Jody Owens accused Fitch of undermining the work of the jury that voted last year to convict former Jackson police officer Anthony Fox of negligent homicide for throwing George Robinson to the ground and causing him a fatal head injury. “He was contemptuous of the rule of law, justice and the will of the people,” Owens said in an interview.

Fitch’s office declined to comment, referring to her short july 10which argues that the evidence presented at trial did not support Fox’s conviction and that the jury erred.

Mississippi Attorney General Lynn Fitch says the evidence does not support Fox’s conviction.Rogelio V. Solis/AP File

«After careful review, the State has concluded that the evidence at trial was insufficient as a matter of law to allow a rational jury to convict Fox of negligent manslaughter,» Fitch’s brief reads. He concludes: «Fox should never have been convicted and he should not face another trial.»

Matthew Steffey, a law professor at the University of Mississippi, called Fitch’s motion «extraordinary» not only because it essentially turned his back on Owens, but also because it pits a white Republican attorney general against a black Democratic district attorney, who are running for re-election this fall.

The dispute, Steffey said, reflects the political and racial dynamics of an ongoing legal battle over attempts by white Republican state officials to exert greater control over the justice system in Jackson, the majority black and Democratic state capital and Hinds County seat.

Jody Owens.
Hinds County District Attorney Jody Owens accused Fitch of undermining the jury’s work.Hinds County District Attorney’s Office / via Facebook

The conservatives who run the state government “do not appear to trust the voters or elected officials in Hinds County, and they certainly see them as their political opponents, not their allies,” Steffey said. Fitch’s office also makes the final decision to file criminal charges against police officers in Mississippi who shot someone.

The January 13, 2019 encounter between Fox and Robinson began after police were dispatched to Robinson’s neighborhood to search for a suspect in the murder of a local pastor. Shortly after arriving, Fox said he noticed a woman standing in a parked car with money. Suspecting a drug deal, Fox said she reached out. Robinson was sitting in the driver’s seat.

Robinson had recently been released from the hospital after suffering a stroke which had left him partially paralyzed but able to drive; Witnesses told investigators that he was returning home for a celebratory cookout after making a trip to the store. Fox said Robinson did not comply with his orders to get out of the car and appeared to be trying to hide something; witnesses said they heard Robinson say that he had just had a stroke and was struggling to get out.

A brief struggle ensued in which Fox, with the help of other officers, tackled Robinson to the ground.

An ambulance arrived and an EMT bandaged a cut on Robinson’s head. She refused further treatment. No drugs were found, but Robinson received a citation alleging noncompliance and resisting arrest. He was allowed to leave.

Later that night, Robinson’s girlfriend found him in bed unconscious and foaming at the mouth. He was taken to the hospital, where he died two days later. An autopsy determined that Robinson died of a subdural hematoma, or bleeding around the brain, caused by «multiple closed head injuries,» and ruled his death a homicide, meaning it was the result of someone else’s actions.

The Justice Department launched a civil rights investigation that resulted in no charges, but a Hinds County grand jury indicted Fox and two other Jackson police officers, all black, like Robinson, on second-degree murder charges. A judge later dismissed the charges against the other officers. Fox, however, was convicted of negligent manslaughter and sentenced to five years in prison.

Anthony Fox.
Former Jackson police officer Anthony Fox is asking an appeals court to overturn his conviction.Hinds County Sheriff’s Office

Fox appealed that sentence, arguing that the evidence at trial did not support the verdict, that Robinson’s injuries were due to his resisting arrest and his underlying medical condition, and not the result of excessive force. Fox’s lawyers have also said the judge gave the «wrong» instructions to the jury and unfairly prevented Fox from recounting what Robinson told him.

One of Fox’s lawyers, Merrida Coxwell, said in an interview that since Robinson suffered only a minor cut, he could not have been thrown headfirst to the ground or beaten, as some witnesses claimed.

«The medical evidence doesn’t support it,» Coxwell said.

Fitch’s brief accepts Fox’s argument of insufficient evidence. “Fox got into a scuffle with Robinson in which he affirmatively slammed Robinson to the ground; however, that struggle dragged on and was made more difficult by Robinson’s continued resistance and failure to follow orders,» wrote one of Fitch’s aides. The report also says that Robinson «suffered only superficial visible injuries.»

Owens said Fitch’s office gave him five minutes’ notice that he was going to file that brief. He first responded in a public statement in which he accused her of making an «unprecedented political maneuver» to support a police officer. in a later written to the Court of AppealsOwens’ office accused Fitch’s office of making «factual misrepresentations» while «zealously defending the interest of a convicted criminal defendant.»

“We did everything related to this case to the letter,” Owens said. “A textbook exam. We followed the evidence where it led; we had no preconceived notions; We gave the benefit of the doubt in many cases to the police and the nature of their jobs.”

Derrick Johnson, president of the NAACP and a longtime Jackson resident, said Fitch’s actions in the Fox case should be seen as a preview of what could happen if a new law creating a state-appointed court to handle criminal cases in Jackson is allowed to take effect. The NAACP filed a lawsuit to block the law, a challenge backed by the US Justice Department, saying it strips Jackson residents of their voting power and weakens their say in how justice is administered in the city, where judges and district attorneys are chosen. A judge has put the law on hold while the case progresses.

Fitch’s support of Fox “isn’t fair. It is the height of injustice,» Johnson said. «And that’s what the rest of Jackson will be up against with the takeover of local authority and home rule.»

Robinson’s family filed a wrongful death lawsuit accusing Fox and the other two officers of excessive force and attempting to cover up their actions, accusing the city of Jackson of failing to properly train and supervise the officers, and accusing the ambulance company that responded to the scene of failing to properly treat Robinson.

The city has denied the family’s claims and said it is not responsible for what happened to Robinson. Lawyers for the officers responded that they «acted reasonably and prudently and had a legitimate and legal justification for all actions taken.» The ambulance company, American Medical Response, denied providing proper care.

A federal court judge dismissed some of the claims, while others remain pending in state court.