Were it not for missing salad dressing, Jessica Hughes and her family would have never stopped in the parking lot of the Steak ‘n Shake restaurant on Goodman Road in Southaven on Feb. 9.
It was there that she was arrested and charged with misusing the 911 emergency phone system, and where she says she was racially profiled and harassed.
Now, the Grenada, Miss. resident has filed a federal lawsuit against Southaven, the city’s police department, DeSoto County, the DeSoto County Sheriff’s Department, the arresting officer and others, claiming that her rights were violated.
“I was arrested because I called 911 for someone to come help me. I felt threatened in that situation and with his line of questioning. I didn’t feel safe,” Hughes said.
Efforts to reach Southaven and DeSoto County officials have been unsuccessful.
Her attorney Carlos Moore believes as a university administrator, U.S. Army reservist, wife of a city councilman, she’s the “perfect victim” to prove the double-standard in DeSoto County.
“There are two sets of laws in DeSoto County and that’s not right,” Moore said. “She had a right to not be illegally searched and seized and she had a right to equal protection under the law.”
Hughes, 38, said her family had left her daughter’s basketball when the family went through the drive-through at Steak ‘n Shake. Her husband, Joshua Hughes, parked the car in a handicapped space to retrieve the absent salad dressing.
Officer P. Croy was patrolling the parking lot at about 10 p.m., saw their SUV in the space without the required license plate or placard.
Hughes was on the passenger side and told the officer she didn’t realize they were parked in a handicapped spot. She said she got out to move their vehicle.
“But he didn’t want to hear any of that. He just wanted to find a reason to harass us. He didn’t ask about registration or insurance. Those are common questions for a traffic violation,” she said. “He asked for my license. I gave him my license. He was asking about warrants and drugs and weapons.”
During the encounter Hughes said she felt unsafe and called 911 twice to request a supervisor.
In his report, Croy stated that Hughes was aggressive during the encounter and said she was not upset until she found out her husband was getting a ticket.
Hughes also called the department’s non-emergency number, Croy said in the arrest report, and could be heard using profanity and calling him an “asshole.”
After the arrest, she said she was not allowed to bond out from the police headquarters, even though there were two white men there on drug charges were allowed to leave from the police headquarters.
“They transferred me there just to make me go through the motions. That’s the way I feel,” Hughes said.
At the county lockup, only the African-American women were subjected to a physical search and required to wear pink jumpsuits, Hughes said. A white woman being held on a DUI charge told them, she wasn’t required to change clothes because she was bonding out.
“White privilege and white supremacy reigns, even in jail,” Moore said.
During the incident, the couple’s three children were in the car. The two younger children were unaware, but her 16-year-old daughter, a basketball player at Grenada High School, was upset, Hughes said.
“She’s strong. I thinks she’s going to be fine after she processes this and gets through it. But it’s going to be tough,” she said.
Hughes is anything but a criminal, Moore said.
“She is married to a city councilman in Grenada, (is) an administrator at the University of Mississippi (in Grenada) and has been a member of the military, serving this country for the past 21 years,” Moore said. “And to be treated like a dog is beyond her and beyond me and we’re going to make them pay. If you could have a perfect victim, she’s the perfect victim.”
The lawsuit asks for a jury trial and $500,000 judgement.