JACKSON, Miss. (AP) — Family and friends of a youth basketball coach called for swift justice Tuesday against two Mississippi sheriff’s deputies accused of assaulting their son after a recreational league game and causing injuries that led to his death.
Hinds County Sheriff’s Deputy Joshua Adams was charged with murder in Monday’s death of 25-year-old Justin Griffin. Adams, 37, was refereeing a 7th-grade AAU state tournament game Griffin was coaching on Sunday. The two argued over play calls on the court and later Griffin was attacked in the parking lot outside, police said. Griffin died from blunt-force trauma to the head from injuries in the fight, said Hinds County Coroner Sharon Grisham-Stewart.
“We believe this was an unprovoked act of aggression as a result of our investigation,” Assistant Jackson Police Chief Lee Vance told The Associated Press in a telephone interview. “That’s why we charged him with the murder.”
Adams is jailed after being denied bond Tuesday. A second unnamed deputy in uniform, working as a security guard at the gym – is being investigated. Vance said police are consulting prosecutors about charges.
Both deputies are suspended without pay pending an internal investigation by the sheriff’s office, said Othor Cain, spokesman for Hinds County Sheriff Tyrone Lewis. Lewis will ultimately decide whether either deputy is fired, though Cain said he couldn’t say when the investigations would be finished.
James Griffin, Justin Griffin’s father, disputed accounts by authorities that his son started the fight. Dozens of people gathered at Griffin’s home Tuesday evening, saying they wanted to uphold Griffin’s reputation.
“He was assaulted and killed by the guys who were supposed to be protecting him,” the father told reporters Tuesday. “My boy was not a thug. We raised him and we raised him right.”
Hours after Griffin died, police arrested Adams, who did not make his initial appearance in open court. Court personnel said he was privately arraigned by Jackson municipal Judge William Walker in a hallway. It was unclear Tuesday whether Adams had an attorney.
Vance said that from reviewing “two or three” partial videos of the scene, it’s clear the second deputy participated in the assault. But he said it’s not clear whether murder is the right charge.
Julian Pickett, a fellow coach and longtime friend of Griffin, said the coach did complain vocally about Adams’ officiating during the game. He also said that Adams had officiated previous games in ways that Pickett and Griffin found unfair.
Pickett, though, said the team, the Kingdom Warriors, came from behind to win Sunday’s game. Then he and Griffin watched another game that Adams officiated without saying anything. Vance said surveillance video shows Griffin was walking out of the Mississippi Basketball & Athletics facility when Adams came out behind them with the second deputy.
Pickett said Adams grabbed Griffin and when he pulled free, the security guard reached for an electronic stun gun. Pickett said he tried to intervene, but Adams pursued Griffin.
“Justin swings; he swings; he hit him,” Pickett said of Adams. “Justin went down and he just stood there.”
Pickett said he took video of part of the assault on his mobile phone, one of the videos that police have reviewed.
Dwayne Pickett, Justin Pickett’s father, said family and friends had to pursue police Sunday and Monday to press charges.
Mississippi Basketball & Athletics facility in north Jackson is run by the nonprofit Mississippi Basketball and Athletics Foundation. The facility offers camps, clinics and training in basketball, volleyball and physical fitness.
No one was present at the gym Tuesday morning, and a telephone call was answered by a recording that said the voice mailbox was full.