Amid misinformation, BGPD, WCSO, local leaders release messages about Emmett Till protests

bowling green police emmett tilll
Source: Bowling Green Police Department/Facebook

BOWLING GREEN, Ky. – The Bowling Green Police Department has released a message clarifying information surrounding Carolyn Bryant Donham and the death of Emmett Till.

After some messages shared to social media included false information, BGPD chief of police Michael Delaney, along with Warren County Sheriff’s Office sheriff Brett Hightower and Bowling Green chapter of the NAACP president Ryan Dearbone, provided a response about the recent protests and the case involved.

Mt. Zion Baptist Pastor John Lee also provided his own insight into the situation.

In the beginning of a video posted to Facebook, Delaney states, “Within the past week, there have been many inaccurate messages shared on social media about this protest and the historical case involved. As part our mission to protect and serve, our release of this video is to provide factual information about the case and protest. In 1955, 14-year-old Emmett Till was tragically kidnapped, beaten, tortured and killed by two men in Mississippi. In August 1955, a warrant was issued in Mississippi for Carolyn Bryant Donham for kidnapping, however, the warrant was never served.”

In August 2022, a Mississippi grand jury also declined to indict Donham, now 89, on any charges.

He continues, “In September, we learned of a group with intentions of protesting the injustice of the outcomes of the Emmett Till case. We were not told a specific date for the protest. We reached out to the organizers of the event many times in an attempt to determine a specific date. Finally, organizers contacted us and requested a meeting on Nov. 21. Attending were members of our local, state and federal law enforcement agencies, president Ryan Dearbone and pastor John Lee. During the meeting, the organizers acknowledged there was no active warrant for Carolyn and shared their intentions to protest in Bowling Green on Dec. 3, 2022. We told them this was the same day as the Christmas parade, so they adjusted their time to begin after the parade was scheduled to end.”

“In the late evening hours on Friday, Dec. 2, two licensed amateur radio operators alerted police of a message they had heard on their radio system. This message was very specific, stating anyone who attended the protest or supported the protest would be shot,” Delaney states.

“We contacted the lead representative with the local Jaycees and told them about the threat. They told us they were going to cancel the Christmas parade due to the threats made to the protestors and the possibility of community members being hurt or killed. Multiple agencies are continuing to investigate the origin of this threat.”

To provide further context, Hightower states, “There has been a recent initiative to highlight the murder investigation from Aug. 24, 1955 on Emmett Till. The Department of Justice, Civil Rights Division and the U.S. Attorney’s Office from the northern district of Mississippi announced it has closed its investigation to a witness’s alleged recantation of her account of the events leading up to the murder of Emmett Till. The investigation was conducted in conjunction with the Mississippi District Attorney’s Office, Fourth District. Till’s murder is one of the most infamous acts of racial violence in our country’s history. Their press release on Dec. 6, 2021 advised the federal prosecution of the woman would be complicated by the fact that, according to the professor’s account, when she said ‘That part’s not true,’ she did not expressly reference her state court testimony or refer to any specific part of the testimony. Rather, the professor’s statement that he understood her to be referring to her allegation that Till physically accosted her in the store from the context of their conversation. And with thus being possible for prosecutors to prove beyond a reasonable doubt the woman intentionally recanted all or part of her state court testimony. And she then lied to the FBI when she denied having done so. Even if the government could prove if she recanted her prior state court testimony, the federal government could not prosecute her for perjury for her 1955 testimony. Perjury in state court is not a federal offense. Moreover, the statute of limitations, the deadline for bringing a prosecution, expired in 1960 on any state perjury offense. Similarly, the five-year statute of limitations expired on any claim that she lied to the FBI during the 2004 investigation. However, enclosing this matter without prosecution, the government does not take the position the state court’s testimony the woman gave in 1955 with is truthful or accurate. There remains considerable doubt on the credibility of her version of events, which is contradicted by others who were with Till at the time, including the account of a living witness.”

“The government’s re-investigation found no new evidence suggesting either the woman or any other living person was involved in Till’s abduction and murder. Even if such evidence could be developed, no federal hate crime laws existed in 1955, and the statute of limitations has run on the only civil rights statutes in effect at the time. As such, even if a living suspect could now be identified, a federal prosecution for Till’s abduction and murder would not be possible,” Hightower states.

You can view the full video and find additional messages from the NAACP and a local pastor below: