Lawsuit claims Jones Co. sheriff physically assaulted, verbally abused teen in 2022 confrontation

Civil complaint filed against Jones County sheriff
Published: Sep. 29, 2023 at 10:54 AM CDT
Email This Link
Share on Pinterest
Share on LinkedIn

JONES COUNTY, Miss. (WDAM) - A new lawsuit in Jones County claims Sheriff Joe Berlin physically assaulted and verbally abused a minor child in a 2022 confrontation after a high school football game.

Cyntrelle Woodward-Wells filed the lawsuit on behalf of her minor son on Thursday, Sept. 28, in the United States District Court. The lawsuit claims Berlin physically assaulted and verbally abused her son in a “chaotic” confrontation in the South Jones High School’s football locker room on September 16, 2022.

According to the lawsuit, the minor child had not committed any criminal act or engaged in suspected illegal activity.

“In the instant case, Sheriff Berlin was retaliating against (the minor child) because Sheriff Berlin believed that (the minor child) had ‘mouthed off’ to some of his deputies,” reads the lawsuit.

The lawsuit further details the confrontation as follows:

  • Berlin confronted the minor child in front of his locker, aggressively getting in the minor’s face.
  • Berlin began to physically assault and verbally abuse the minor child by putting his hands on the minor to control him and yelling while calling the minor “homie.”
  • The minor child told Sheriff Berlin to “Get out of my face.”
  • Berlin physically assaulted the minor child by shoving him into his football equipment locker.
  • The assault ended when Head Football Coach Todd Breland intervened, causing a verbal altercation between Berlin and Coach Todd Breland.

The day after the assault in 2022, public speculation about the altercation between Berlin and Breland led then-Jones County School District Superintendent Tommy Parker to issue a statement calling the incident a “misunderstanding.”

Included in the lawsuit are 10 or more unnamed officers and security personnel who were allegedly at the locker room confrontation and failed to intervene. They are listed as “DOE OFFICERS 1-12.″

The lawsuit claims that Berlin and these officers violated the minor child’s civil rights under the 4th Amendment of the United States Constitution through the use of excessive force and unlawful seizure.

“At all times, these acts were carried out under the color of state law and by individuals acting in their official capacity as agents of the Jones County Sheriff’s Department,” reads the lawsuit.

It also names the Jones County government as a co-defendant due to its oversight of the JCSD.

“Sheriff Berlin and the JCSD have a persistent, widespread practice of assaulting, seizing, arresting, and falsely charging innocent persons for perceived slights and exercising their First Amendment protected speech rights....,” reads the lawsuit. “As is demonstrated by the numerous other violations by the JCSD, and its chief policymaker, the County is deliberately indifferent to the fact that these constitutional violations have been repeatedly occurring and are a highly predictable consequence of the JCSD’s inadequate training and Sheriff Berlin’s inadequate supervision.”

Woodward-Wells, on behalf of her son, is seeking compensatory damages of at least $75,000, punitive damages of at least $500,000, and attorney and legal fees.

The lawsuit claims “the minor child has suffered damage to his reputation; past physical pain and suffering’ past, present, and future emotional distress; and other financial losses.”

Neither Berlin, the Jones County Sheriff’s Department, nor the Jones County government have released a statement or response to the lawsuit.

You can read the lawsuit in its entirety below:

Want more WDAM 7 news in your inbox? Click here to subscribe to our newsletter.