Federal law enforcement officials are looking into a white father and son who allegedly chased and fired shots at D’Monterrio Gibson, a 24-year-old Black FedEx delivery driver, moments after he delivered a package in a predominantly white section of Brookhaven, Miss.
Carlos Moore, the driver’s lawyer, tells TIME that he has had conversations about the late January incident with officials inside the Department of Justice’s Civil Rights division and was told by Brookhaven Police that the FBI collected materials related to the case on Thursday.
“The federal government is taking this seriously and we do believe that they are looking into it for [possible] hate crime,” says Moore.
DOJ and its divisions, including the FBI, typically do not confirm or deny that an official investigation is underway or whether a potential federal case is under consideration.
Gibson says he feels lucky to be alive. And significant concerns remain for him and Moore, who has relatives who live in Brookhaven and grew up spending his summers in what he describes as a small Mississippi town with a history of deadly racial violence.
“These men are still on the loose,” Moore says. Brandon Case, 35, and his father, Gregory Case, 58, the father and son charged eight days after the incident were granted bonds and released. Gibson lives in an area town and Moore worries for his safety. “They chased him to the interstate last time, what’s stopping them from chasing him now. What’s stopping them from going after him at this point?”
Historically, Mississippi ranks among the states with the largest number of lynchings, according to an analysis of racial violence produced by the Equal Justice Initiative. It is the state where Emmett Till was kidnapped and killed–and the men who later admitted to his murder were acquitted by an all white jury. And Brookhaven has its own history of racial violence. In the 1950s, a Black civil rights activist was gunned down by a white man on the front lawn of the Lincoln County Courthouse in Brookhaven. No arrests were made. No convictions followed. In 2016, the U.S. Justice Department moved to close a cold case investigation into the shooting.
“No one was ever brought to justice,” Moore says.
As of Friday afternoon, Dee Bates, the current district attorney and chief prosecutor of the three-county Mississippi region that includes Brookhaven, had not yet received the case from municipal prosecutors and police. Local law enforcement, under the state’s procedures, have initiated charges against the Cases, in connection with the reported events. The younger Case has been charged with a felonious attempt to cause bodily injury with a firearm by shooting at an occupied vehicle. The elder Case was charged with unlawfully and feloniously conspiring with his son to commit aggravated assault by attempting to cause bodily injury. Officials were unable to confirm Friday, whether the men had entered pleas in their respective cases.
“I would like to assure everyone that the victim’s voice will be heard,” Bates says after also emphasizing that the accused are, as always, innocent until proven guilty. “When the grand jury determines the facts and the appropriate charges I’m certain they will do what they are charged to do, enforce the law blindly…It is going to be fair and just.”
The story, as told by Gibson and his lawyer, is on its face alarming. Gibson, wearing a FedEx uniform and driving a cargo van with Hertz logos on its side (due to a FedEx vehicle shortage, according to Moore), delivered a package to a predominantly white section of Brookhaven. As Gibson drove away he was nearly corralled, shot at and chased by two white men, until he reached the highway. Bullet holes and punctured packages were found in Gibson’s delivery van and, later, a shell casing. Eight days later the Cases were charged and allowed to turn themselves in to Brookhaven Police.
Gibson’s lawyer says that, in the interim, Gibson came to believe that local law enforcement officials were minimizing the seriousness of the alleged crimes, events that Gibson has said could have easily cost him his life. People in Brookhaven have begun to question potential conflicts of interest – pre-existing relationships between key police officers connected to the case and the two men charged in connection with the incident. But what’s set off a flurry of commentary on social media, as well as in activist and legal circles across the country, is the way multiple elements of the Brookhaven case seem to echo what happened in 2020 near Brunswick, Ga., where Ahmaud Arbery lived and died.
Read more: What Ahmaud Arbery’s Death Has Meant for the Place Where He Lived
In Brunswick, Travis and Gregory McMichael, the father and son responsible for Arbery’s death, have since been convicted of murder and assault. They currently face federal hate crimes charges. Immediately after Arbery’s shooting death, local officials did not arrest the men. Activists, members of Arberys family and journalists probed events the day he died, mounted protests and drew public attention to the case, including that of the state’s Republican governor. State law enforcement officials took over the investigation more than two months after Arbery was killed. A few days later, state officials arrested the two men. (A third man, William “Roddie” Bryan was also arrested, charged and convicted in state court of murder and assault. He also faces federal hate crimes charges.) The father, Gregory McMichael, had once worked in local law enforcement and as an investigator for the area district attorney. That prosecutor, as well as a second, initially insisted that no crime had occurred and arrests should not be made.
“It clearly seems to be a classic copycat situation,” Moore says. “If these two are allowed to get away with attempted murder others are going to continue to do this and it’s going to be a very dangerous time to be a Black delivery driver.”
Brookhaven Chief of Police Kenneth Collins, who is Black, and Assistant Chief Chris Case, who is white, did not respond to requests for comment Friday. Collins has said in press conferences that Brookhaven is not a racist community.Collins, according to Moore, has also told local activists not to “cause trouble,” “bring in outsiders” or initiate protests.
Brandon and Gregory Case are presumed innocent until proven guilty, but the interests of all victims and the importance of public safety will also be defended, Bates stresses. The victim and other witnesses will be allowed to testify. And if factual indications of obstruction of justice or official misconduct emerge, multiple agencies including the FBI and the Mississippi Attorney General’s Office would likely become involved.
Moore, however, remains less than certain that prevailing community notions of safety, justice and illegal behavior will protect Gibson, he tells TIME.
“They have a history for heinous crimes in that county,” Moore says. “Had they killed this man, there would be no video. … But in this instance, God was gracious to allow this man to live. He was able to dodge the man who tried to cut him off in the truck and then he was able to dodge the man who was standing in the middle of the road with a gun. While there were several shots that contacted the vehicle, even the packages, he was not struck, by God’s grace.”
What’s more, the grand jury which will consider advancing indictments against the white father and son accused of chasing and shooting at Gibson’s vehicle will not be drawn from Brookhaven, a shrinking town of about 11,600 people, where 60% of residents identify as Black. The jury pool will, like similar bodies around the country, be drawn from Brookhaven and the surrounding county. Lincoln County is home to about 34,800 people, where nearly 67% of residents identify as white. Politically, Lincoln County is also like of many around the state. In November 2020, 71% of voters backed Donald Trump.
Read more: Ahmaud Arbery and America’s White Juror Problem
Gibson has told Moore that he is “not only speaking up for himself but for those who did not make it, like Ahmaud Arbery and George Floyd and others, who did not make it at the hands of these white racist men,” Moore says.
Gibson’s FedEx manager accompanied him to the police station to file a report about the incident. While there, Gibson says police asked him to describe events multiple times. He began to worry that officers were attempting to twist or downplay the details of his statement. One officer said he was going to play devil’s advocate. The officer asked if Gibson had done something to make the men who allegedly chased and shot at him think that he was suspicious.
“I replied, ‘No sir, I was just doing my job. If they thought I was suspicious, then that’s on them’,” Gibson says, “That was like disrespectful to me, because it’s like victim shaming.”
Gibson, who said he was initially overconfident–certain he could handle things and carry on–went back to work.He was put on the same delivery route. But, within days when he found himself in Brookhaven again to deliver a package, Gibson had what he described as a panic attack. The young man’s heart began to race. He felt as if he couldn’t breathe and he had to stop trying to deliver anything. His bosses said they would try to get him off the Brookhaven route. But they ultimately offered one option: unpaid time off, Gibson says.
On Friday, a day after national press attention turned to the incident in Brookhaven, a regional official with FedEx contacted Gibson and Moore and told Gibson that the company would pay him retroactively for the period since Jan. 31. The executive also said FedEx would cover the cost of counseling for Gibson, guarantee his job for 90 days, offer three additional weeks of paid time off, and reevaluate what was needed thereafter.
In a statement emailed to TIME, FedEx said it was taking the situation seriously. “We are shocked by this criminal act against our team member, D’Monterrio Gibson. The safety of our team members is our top priority, and we remain focused on his well being. We continue to support Mr. Gibson, including compensation, as we cooperate with investigating authorities,” the company said.
When Gibson learned Friday that another federal agency, the FBI, had come to Brookhaven, he felt some sense of relief. He’d had to convince himself to speak up after contemplating how many cases of dead Black people have gone unresolved in Mississippi.
“He will be heard,” Bates, the Brookhaven area district attorney, says..”I guarantee you that. I guarantee that to the citizens of the state of Mississippi, my district and the United States. He will be heard.”
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