James Barnett is recovering from injuries after he claims he was beaten by officers with the Laurel Police Department. The 36-year-old said the incident happened on Wednesday, May 16.
“It was like I was coming up on a stop point,” Barnett said. “They were checking licenses on Highway 15 and I was headed home and me thinking I had a warrant or whatever, I turned around from the checkpoint and so they began to trail me. So, we ended up going on a high-speed chase (and) we ended up in Jasper County.”
It was at that point, Barnett says things took an unexpected turn for the worst when he finally came to a stop in his vehicle.
“As I was getting out, they had their guns drawn on me telling me to get out with my hands out and get on the ground,” he said of the two Laurel Police Department officers. “So, I laid flat on the ground, face down (and) they came up continuously kicking me in my face.”
Barnett couldn’t recall how long he stayed on the ground getting physically assaulted. But, he does remember when it ended.
“And for the grace of God, if the deputy sheriff from Heidelberg didn’t come by, I think I wouldn’t be here now, because he came up and they stopped,” he said patting the bruises on his face.
The alleged harassment didn’t conclude on the side of the highway. Once Barnett arrived at South Central Regional Medical Center by police escort, he says he underwent more abuse and this time it was verbal.
“I (was) nervous, because I’m thinking it’s going to be the end of my life in there,” he said describing moments laying in the hospital bed surrounded by six officers. “So, I played like I was sleep--- my eyes closed.”
In the moments prior to the alleged attack, Barnett stated that the officers failed to read him his Miranda Rights. Barnett admitted to driving without a license and even his part in leading police on a chase. But, he remained adamant in his belief that the punishment didn’t fit the crime.
“Even though I was wrong for putting them in a high-speed chase, still, I shouldn’t have been done like that,” he said. “They act like I was armed, like I robbed a bank or something or killed four people or something like that for them to beat me like that. I didn’t do any of that.”
Following the incident, Barnett took to social media to alert people of what happened to him. His post including pictures of his injuries with the tagline #justiceneed2bserve has been shared over 400 times with hundreds of comments of support.
Capt. Tommy Cox, with the Laurel Police Department, said two officers were terminated as a result of the investigation.
Barnett, who has filed a complaint with the police department, says if he were white he believes the circumstances would’ve been different. The officers who allegedly attacked him are white.
“Racism still exists,” he said.
He went on to say that his recent encounter with law enforcement has made him look at those serving at the Laurel Police Department differently.
“That made me feel like I ain’t wanted here like I’m not protected by them,” he said. “I don’t know. They were serving the wrong cause that night. That just made me feel bad like I was really beneath them.”
Barnett’s mother, Gloria Mayers, feels the officers should be reprimanded for their actions.
“I feel like they shouldn’t even be on the police force,” she said. “I feel like they should be fired off the police force for what they did.”
Recalling the moment, she first observed Barnett following the incident, she said she couldn’t help but break down in tears to see her child bruised and battered.
“After everything happened and I (saw) him in court that morning, I said, ‘oh my God, I know they didn’t do my baby like that,” Mayers said. “And then I looked at him and I saw tears coming down his eyes and said, ‘the police are supposed to be protect and serve, they (aren’t) supposed to hurt and harm. And I feel like if they do him like that, they’ll do somebody else (like that).”
Even though she knows her son fled from authorities, she feels officers could’ve handled the situation in another appropriate way. Now, Mayers wants justice for her son, who she feels was wrongfully targeted by authorities.
“I feel like if he flees, if a person flees, I don’t care if they’re going from here to Chicago, they shouldn’t have to put their hands on him,” she said. “That’s the way I feel. And I feel like they shouldn’t even have to do (anything) just get them out and put the handcuffs on them and take them to jail.”
In his initial court appearance, Barnett says he pleaded to resisting arrest. But, he is scheduled to appear in court on June 11 to fight that same charge.
Due to the severity of his wounds, Barnett says he’s currently not working.
“I have to have surgery on my eye now, because it’s hard for me to look to the right and then my nose is fractured,” he said. “They said something is wrong with my sinuses. I can’t blow my nose or nothing right now. So, I have to go talk to a doctor about that next week.”
Barnett says his injuries have caused him to have multiple issues ranging from blurred vision to blackouts. He even says there are impressions of the officers’ footprints on various places on his head.
“I can’t sleep at night,” he said. “They got me looking like an elephant man.”
Barnett hopes that by speaking out he’ll prevent someone from having to endure the same “pain and suffering” he’s currently experiencing.
“I just want justice,” he said. “I want what’s right, done. They (did) me wrong, so something has to be done about that. If you’re working for the law, do right by the law. Don’t uphold the law by trying to take the law into your own hands.”
Despite knowing he will have to undergo multiple surgeries coupled with dealing with fear for his safety, Barnett remains optimistic.
“I’m going to make it through though through the Grace of God,” he said.