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Emmett Till relative asks Federal Court to force Leflore County Sheriff to arrest Carolyn Donham in the kidnapping of Emmett Till

Wednesday, February 8, 2023, 2:51 pm News Flash Archive

Yesterday, Priscilla Sterling filed a lawsuit in Federal District Court against Leflore County Sheriff Ricky Banks. In her lawsuit, Sterling asks the court to order the Sheriff to arrest Carolyn Donham for the kidnapping of Emmett Till in 1955.

This lawsuit follows after the discovery in June 2022 of a 1955 Leflore County arrest warrant naming J. W. Milam, Roy Bryant, and Carolyn Bryant, now Carolyn Donham, for the kidnapping of Emmett Till.

Till was kidnapped and murdered by Mr. Bryant and Milam, after Till, who was 14 years old, allegedly "wolf whistled" at Bryant's wife, Carolyn. The Bryants were later divorced, and Carolyn Bryant subsequently remarried.

Mr. Bryant and Milam were later charged, indicted, and tried for Till's horrific murder in Tallahatchie County, but were acquitted by an all-white jury. A transcript of the September 1955 trial may be seen here: Emmett Till murder trial transcript, 1955

Carolyn Donham was never arrested on the kidnapping charge, but in November 1955, the Leflore County Grand Jury declined to indict on the kidnapping charges after the murder trial collapsed the previous September.

In her lawsuit, Sterling states that she is "a relative of Emmett Till." Public sources describe her as his cousin.

Sterling claims that Carolyn Donham took part in Till's kidnapping. She recites the horrific brutality of his beating and murder, and the degrading way his body was treated by the murderers.

Sterling also mistakenly claims in her complaint that the trial took place in Leflore County, and that Donham was present in court. The trial actually took place in Sumner, in Tallahatchie County.

Repeatedly in the complaint, Sterling conflates the past and the present, for example, claiming:

The Leflore County Sheriff is complicit in the trio's escape from justice even though both Roy Bryant and J.W. Milam admitted to the crime.

Current Leflore County Sheriff Ricky Banks, who is the person being sued by Sterling, was eight years old when Till was murdered, and played no part in his trial or the case.

Sterling makes the following demand:

To this day, the warrant issued for Carolyn Bryant remains unserved. Carolyn Bryant's whereabouts are known. This action is being brought in order to compel the Leflore County Sheriff to serve the warrant upon Carolyn Bryant.

Sterling levels broad brush accusations of racial discrimination against Sheriff Banks, without providing any specific examples:

The Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment to the United States Constitution provides that no state shall "deny to any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws."

The Defendant [Sheriff Banks] deny [sic] equal protection of the laws to its [sic] African Americans by observing two-class law enforcement protocol: a protocol for white citizens, who receive full enforcement of the law when they are the victim of crime and a law enforcement protocol for black citizens who do not receive full enforcement of the law when they are the victim of crimes perpetuated [sic] against them by white citizens.

The Defendant has engaged in racially selective enforcement of law.

The Defendant has systematically avoided law enforcement in cases when the victim is black and the perpetuator [sic] is white.

This discrimination on the basis of race is in violation of the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment to the United States Constitution.

Sterling claims that:

The Defendant was ordered to serve an arrest warrant on Carolyn Bryant.

The Defendant was ordered to arrest Carolyn Bryant.

The Defendant neither served nor arrested Carolyn Bryant.

Most interestingly, Sterling never once claims in her lawsuit that Sheriff Banks has actually been presented with a copy of the arrest warrant. At this point, it's unknown just who has been provided a copy.

Sterling concludes her complaint by asking the federal court to stop Sheriff Banks from "racially selective enforcement of the law," and most importantly:

Grant Plaintiff preliminary and/or permanent injunctive relief by ordering the Defendant, his employees, agents, officers, servants, and successors to serve the arrest warrant issued against Carolyn Bryant, now Carolyn Donham and not engage in any act which obstructs justice pertaining to the proceedings of Carolyn Donham.

Sterling is also asking the court for her attorney fees.

Sterling's lawsuit appears to be based on a misunderstanding of the purpose of an arrest warrant, and the fact that the charges against Carolyn Bryant have been "no billed" by several different grand juries already.

When a person is criminally charged, an affidavit is sworn before a judge, and an arrest warrant is issued. However, the arrest itself has nothing to do with the charges or any possible indictment.

Executing the arrest warrant is simply a way of holding the accused for action by the grand jury.

Once the grand jury declines to indict, a prior arrest warrant on those charges becomes meaningless. Arresting the person does not "reopen" the case against them, or produce new charges. Once the grand jury refuses to indict the individual, that person must be released from custody, and the person's bail discharged.

Under the present circumstances, were Carolyn Donham to be arrested on the old warrant, she would immediately be released, as there are no charges pending against her.

Following persistent demands for a reopening of the case, Leflore County District Attorney Joyce Chiles empaneled a grand jury to consider charging Donham and possible others in Till's kidnapping and murder. In February 2007, the grand jury declined to indict, concluding that there wasn't enough credible evidence against Donham or anyone else still alive, of any crimes to prosecute in the matter.

After the 1955 arrest warrant was discovered and publicized in June 2022, District Attorney Dewayne Richardson again empaneled a grand jury and presented evidence and testimony regarding Donham and the kidnapping charge, but in August 2022, the grand jury again declined to issue any indictment.

The federal Department of Justice also reopened an investigation into Donham and any others still living, but in late 2021, decided to close the investigation, again finding no credible evidence to take action against anyone still living, including Carolyn Donham.

To view the detailed examination of the evidence and claims by the federal investigators, see here: Department of Justice Closing Memo re: Emmett Till murder

Sterling is represented by Jackson attorney Trent Walker and Washington DC attorney Malik Shabazz. The lawsuit may be seen here: Sterling v. Banks complaint

The Taxpayers Channel reached out to Sheriff Banks for comment this morning, but he has not returned our phone call.

John Pittman Hey
The Taxpayers Channel

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