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Indictment, Lawsuit Allege Ex-Miss. Sheriff Allowed Violence In Jail

Terry Grassaree was dogged for years by questions about how he did his job as a law enforcement officer in Macon, Miss., a tiny town near the state’s eastern border. There were allegations of rape inside the jail that Grassaree supervised, and lawsuits claiming that he covered up the episodes. At least five people, including one of his fellow deputies, accused him of beating others or choking them with a police baton. Grassaree survived it all, rising in the Noxubee County Sheriff’s office, from a deputy mopping floors, to chief deputy, to the elected position of sheriff, making him one of the most powerful figures in town. More than three years after losing an election and retiring, and 16 years after a woman first claimed that Grassaree pressured her to lie about being raped, the former sheriff faces criminal charges, reports the New York Times and the Mississippi Cener for Investigative Reporting.

A federal indictment accuses him of committing bribery in 2019, near the end of his eight-year tenure as sheriff, and of lying to federal agents when they questioned him about whether he requested sexually explicit photographs and videos from a female inmate. Grassaree has denied the charges. Allegations of wrongdoing against Grassaree have been far more wide-ranging and serious than the federal charges suggest. Over nearly two decades, as allegations mounted and Noxubee County’s insurance company paid to settle lawsuits against Grassaree, state prosecutors brought no charges against him or others accused of abuses in the jail. A federal investigation dragged on for years. Even now, no higher authority has reviewed how Grassaree ran the jail or whether his policies endangered women. In Mississippi, as in many states, rural sheriffs are left largely to police themselves and their jails. In 2006, after Grassaree and his staff left jail cell keys hanging openly on a wall, male inmates opened the doors to the cell of two women inmates and raped them, the women told state investigators. One of the women said Grassaree pressured her to sign a false statement to cover up the crimes, according to a state police report that has never been made public. A year later, in a lawsuit, four people who had been arrested gave sworn statements accusing Grassaree of violence. Two of the people said he choked or beat them while they were in his custody. A third said he pinned her against a wall and threatened to let a male inmate rape her.


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