The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

Police chief bragged about shooting Black man 119 times, according to recording

Sam Dobbins, the police chief in Lexington, Miss., was fired Wednesday, after the disclosure of a recording of him bragging about killing people in the line of duty and using the n-word repeatedly. (Screenshot via YouTube/WL/Screenshot via YouTube/WLBT)
Placeholder while article actions load

A police chief in Mississippi was fired Wednesday after a leaked recording showed that the official had bragged about killing 13 people in the line of duty and used the n-word repeatedly, including to describe one Black person the White man says he shot at least 119 times.

The racist, homophobic and expletive-laden remarks that Sam Dobbins, the chief in the small town of Lexington, made during an April conversation with an officer caused an uproar this week in the Mississippi Delta community.

The roughly 16-minute conversation, which was first reported by the Mississippi Center for Investigative Reporting, was recorded by Robert Lee Hooker, a Black man who resigned as an officer from the Lexington Police Department last week due to what he described as a toxic work environment.

In the recording, later obtained by The Washington Post, Dobbins can be heard boasting to Hooker about all of the men he killed when he was an officer.

“I’ve killed 13 men in my career, justified,” he said, according to the recording. “In my line of duty, I have shot and killed 13 different people.”

While describing an alleged shootout in a cornfield, Dobbins claimed to Hooker that he “saved 67 kids in a school” by shooting a Black man more than 100 times.

“I shot that n----- 119 times, okay?” Dobbins said to Hooker, adding that the man he shot was “DRT,” or “dead right there.” It’s unclear what case he’s referencing, but Dobbins reiterated, “The vehicle was shot 319 times, but he was hit 119 times by me.”

As backlash mounted in Lexington — a town of 1,600 people, 80 percent of whom are Black — the board of aldermen voted 3-2 Wednesday to oust Dobbins, effective immediately.

“Once we heard it, I was just appalled and angry,” Cardell Wright, the paralegal for JULIAN, the civil rights and international human rights organization that obtained the audio from Hooker, told The Post. Wright, the president of the Mississippi Freedom Democratic Party, added: “Just to see the hatred in your own backyard was disturbing. We knew we had to do something immediately.”

Neither Dobbins nor Hooker immediately responded to requests for comment early Thursday. Messages left for the mayor’s office were also not immediately returned.

Dobbins told the Mississippi Center for Investigative Reporting that he was unaware of the recording and that the topic of killing people in the line of duty was “something we don’t discuss, period.” He also denied using the slurs: “I don’t talk like that,” Dobbins said.

Mississippi is a one-party consent state when it comes to recording conversations, meaning not all parties in a conversation have to be made aware they are being recorded.

Jill Collen Jefferson, the founder and president of JULIAN, told The Post in a statement that “the corruption we’re seeing here is on a scale I haven’t seen since the civil rights movement.”

“This audio is damning,” Jefferson said. “It’s not just a reflection of one officer. It’s a reflection of an entire culture of policing, and it should spur Congress to finally rein in this modern-day slave patrol. A culture like this does not deserve immunity.”

Dobbins’s firing comes at a time when policing and the culture of small police departments is under scrutiny, nationwide. After the mass shooting at an elementary school in Uvalde, Tex., in May in which 19 children and two adult teachers were killed, critics and policing experts said the handling of the tragedy raised more concerns as to whether tiny police agencies still made sense. Agencies with fewer than 10 officers make up nearly half the nation’s more than 12,200 local departments, a 2016 federal survey found.

Uvalde intensifies doubts over whether tiny police agencies make sense

More than 1,050 people have been shot and killed by police in the past year, according to data tracked by The Post. Although half of those people were White, Black Americans are shot at a disproportionate rate: They account for less than 13 percent of the U.S. population but are killed by police at more than twice the rate of Whites. Hispanics are also killed by police at a disproportionate rate.

Much of America wants policing to change. But these self-proclaimed experts tell officers they’re doing just fine.

In Lexington, about 64 miles north of the capital, Jackson, Dobbins was promoted to police chief last year, Wright said.

In recent months, more than a dozen Lexington residents have accused law enforcement of harassment — with one person calling the culture of policing in the town as “the Wild, Wild West.”

Shirley Gibson, a lifelong resident, accused Lexington police of breaking into her home in December and using force against her and her son, even though she says the officers did not have a search warrant. “I’m very terrified because this isn’t the first time they did this,” she told WLBT at the time.

Hooker had resigned as an officer with the force only days after he joined the department earlier this year, Wright said. But the officer, who was allegedly frustrated with how Dobbins was speaking to him and others, decided to rejoin the force to help bring some accountability if needed.

“He was waiting to see if the chief slipped up any more and showed his true colors,” Wright said.

This police chief is hiring female officers to fix 'toxic' policing

On April 11, Hooker and Dobbins were talking to each other following a couple of arrests in town. Dobbins is heard in the recording using multiple racial slurs to Hooker while arguing that he would defend the officer.

“There’s only going to be one man fighting for you, and it’s going to be me, okay?” Dobbins said, according to the recording.

Then, Dobbins talked about the 13 people he’s killed in the line of duty. When Hooker asked if he really did fatally shoot that many people while on duty, Dobbins responded, “Yes, sir, justified, bro. Ask around.”

At that point, he again used the n-word and claimed to have shot a Black suspect 119 times. While he does not specify the case, Wright told The Post that JULIAN has received calls indicating that it was an incident in Montgomery County, Miss., involving an unarmed man. Dobbins said in the recording that the man was armed. Dobbins told Hooker in April that the Humphreys County Sheriff’s Office, where he worked at the time, cleared him of all wrongdoing.

A spokesperson with the sheriff’s office did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Dobbins is also heard uttering homophobic slurs and claiming that he would smash suspects “through the window” to get their respect.

“It would get your attention real quick,” he said, according to the recording.

Wright said he was unaware such a recording existed until Hooker resigned from the force and handed over the tape last Friday. Hooker told reporters on Wednesday that he came forward because he could no longer sit back and let Dobbins’s alleged behavior continue.

“I just got to the point where you’re not doing the people right, you’re not doing right, so therefore let me expose you for what you are, who you are,” Hooker said, according to WLBT. “And that’s how it happened.”

Investigator Charles Henderson has been named interim chief in Lexington until a permanent replacement is found.

Hooker is thankful that Dobbins has been dismissed, but he is also cautious of any potential backlash that could come, Wright said.

“He’s being cautious because we don’t know who in the community is mad about the situation,” Wright said. “But he is relieved that he was able to do his part in standing up for the Black community in Lexington.”

Loading...