The Justice Department investigated the Hinds County detention facilities and issued a report last month that sharply criticized the county over its treatment of inmates. The media picked up the report and ran with it as they had themselves a story. Nothing like the thought of a Mississippi Sheriff mistreating inmates to get a headline. However, there is always a "rest of the story". The Rest of the story in this case is the sister of the U.S. Attorney was fired by Hinds County Sheriff Tyrone Lewis and currently has an active lawsuit related to her firing in Hinds County Circuit Court. Earlier post with copy of Justice Department report.
U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of Mississippi Greg Davis stated in a Justice Department press release accompanying the report on May 21:
“The Hinds County detention facilities have an obligation to provide conditions of confinement that do not offend the Constitution,” said U.S. Attorney Gregory K. Davis of the Southern District of Mississippi. “This office will work with the Civil Rights Division of the Department of Justice to address and remedy the violations revealed by the investigation.”However, Mr. Davis's sister was fired by Sheriff Lewis two years ago in July 2013. Karen Smith, the sister of the U.S. Attorney, worked in the Warrants Division of the HCSO as an administrative assistant. The Mississippi Department of Employment Security denied her unemployment benefits based upon information received from the Hinds County Sheriff's Office. Ms. Smith filed a lawsuit against MDES in January 2014.* The MDES brief quotes the Administrative Law Judge's findings:
(Smith) went to the medical department to personally check on an inmate due to the concern for his welfare. Claimant spoke to the inmate without proper authorization.
The chief deputy provided first-hand testimony that he was on a three-way call with the inmate's mother and listened to the claimant allow the inmate to use her cell phone to call his mother. Claimant was giving them legal advice to use the HCSO.
The claimant was not a police officer. She is an administrative assistant, and should not have been in the medical area. The employer provided a witness who works in the medical area who testified claimant was in medical area and checked on inmate. Also, no one is to allow an inmate to use their cellphone. She violated the breach of integrity policy and was terminated on July 24, 2013.
Ms. Smith disputes these findings and argues the inmate did not use her cellphone and that the Sheriff's office never established that it was indeed her cellphone. She also claimed that she went to the area to get her blood pressure checked by medical personnel. HCSO sources said employees are supposed to use the services offered by their personal physicians as covered by insurance instead of using medical services meant for inmates.
Ms. Smith is also a supporter of Hinds County Sheriff candidate Victor Mason as seen in these campaign photos:
*The last filing in the case was December 2014. Attorney Lisa Ross represents Ms. Smith. The case was assigned to Circuit Judge Jeff Weill but Ms. Smith filed a motion to recuse in December as the Sheriff endorsed the Judge in his recent campaign for re-election. (Kingfish note: It is hard to see how any Hinds County circuit judge can hear this case considering the Sheriff sparred with them in the Mississippi Supreme Court over the bailiffs issue. Judge Gowan wrote a brief defending Judge Green and adverse to the Sheriff. Judge Kidd sided with Judge Green as well.)
Kingfish note: Those were the facts, now for the opinion. U.S. Attorney Greg Davis should have recused himself from the Justice Department investigation and damn sure should not have made a statement used in a press release. There is a little snippet of language in the code of ethics about appearances of conflicts of interest or impropriety. Staying involved with an investigation into the administration that fired his sister and is involved in a lawsuit casts a certain appearance that should be avoided by the U.S. Attorney.
It should be noted that although Ms. Smith is a supporter of one of the Sheriff's opponents, the story is about the U.S. Attorney and what he did or didn't do, not the campaign or his opponent. Ms. Smith appeared in some campaign photos but there is no evidence suggesting anything about that particular campaign. It was the U.S. Attorney who didn't recuse himself from this matter. It is the U.S. Attorney who must answer the question: Was he using his office to help his sister? Why didn't he disassociate himself from the investigation?