A lawsuit filed in federal court claims Greenwood Police Chief Ray Moore and at least four police officers violated the constitutional rights of a man by shooting him twice with a stun gun, searching him, arresting him and locking him up for four days in the fall of 2016, only to never press any charges against him.
Lawyers representing Bertram “Bert” Keys of Greenwood, identified as a Greenwood Raiders football coach, claim in the suit filed April 4 that Keys’ treatment violated his Fourth and 14th Amendment rights.
Named as defendants in the suit are the city of Greenwood, Moore, and officers James D. Layton, Byron L. Granderson, Dylan H. Peden and Lenard Paige. The lawsuit, which is one side of a legal argument, lists five other officers, unnamed and identified as John and Jane Does, 1-5.
“The City is sued for its unlawful policy or custom of permitting and encouraging SWAT teams to engage in harassment, search and arrest of citizens based solely on their color (black) and their neighborhood, in violation of their individual constitutional rights,” the lawsuit states.
While noting the city had yet to be served in the suit, City Attorney Don Brock said Friday, “It’s the city’s policy not to comment on matters in litigation.”
The lawsuit lays out the events of Friday, Sept. 2, 2016, at about 10 p.m. Keys was leaning against his truck in front of I’am Sandwich Shop, 114 Palace St., waiting for his order of food, the suit claims, when the SWAT team and other officers descended on the area.
The suit says Layton asked Keys for permission to search his truck, and Keys didn’t grant him the right. When officer Peden came up behind Keys and tried to put him in a headlock, Keys turned toward him and was shot with a stun gun by Granderson, according to the suit.
As Keys lay face down on the ground, another officer yelled to “tase him again,” and he was shot with a stun gun a second time by an unidentified officer, according to the suit.
Keys was handcuffed, put in a patrol car and taken to the Leflore County Jail. His charges were listed as simple assault on a police officer, disorderly conduct and resisting arrest, the suit says. He posted bail four days later and was released.
The suit claims that none of the charges were ever prosecuted against Keys and that a judge dismissed the charges with prejudice and expunged all charges from his record on Nov. 7, 2018.
An article in the Commonwealth on Sept. 6, 2016, quoted Moore as saying Keys was “well-known” to the department and had a history of drug offenses and multiple aggravated assaults. Moore also claimed Keys was being held at the request of the Mississippi Department of Corrections for parole violations, a claim that the department later admitted was not true.
The article also reported that Moore said officers from a special “high crime” detail observed a crowd of people milling in the street near the old KFC restaurant at the intersection of Main and Palace streets a little after 10 p.m. on the night of the incident. In the crowd, officers observed Keys rolling a “blunt” marijuana cigar, Moore told the Commonwealth.
Despite that comment, Keys was never charged with drug violations. The suit claims Moore made statements of “false acceptance and ratification” of the SWAT team’s actions in response to questions from the Commonwealth reporter.
Keys’ arrest drew protests at the time from his wife, his mother and critics of the Police Department. It generated letters to the editor in the Commonwealth and discussion at a Greenwood City Council meeting, where frequent police critic Jelani Barr used it as an example of police mistreatment.
The lawsuit seeks compensatory damages from all defendants, punitive damages from the individual defendants, costs and attorney fees.
•Contact Gavin Maliska at 581-7235 or firstname.lastname@example.org.