Benjamin Brown, 22 when he died, was a civil rights activist in Jackson. He was active during the freedom rides, participated in voter registration drives, and worked with the Delta Ministry “Freedom Corps” until late 1966. By 1967, Brown had married Margaret Brown, a fellow civil rights worker, and begun working as a truck driver in Jackson. Brown was well known to local authorities for his civil rights activism, having been arrested seven times in Jackson for his participation in various protests and demonstrations.
On May 10, 1967, when city police entered Jackson State College to arrest a student for speeding on campus, a confrontation ensued between a large number of students, police and national guardsmen. The Jackson Police Department, the Mississippi Highway Patrol, and the National Guard were all present on the campus during the disturbances, which lasted almost two days. State Adjutant General Walter Johnson equipped his troops with live ammunition, and so did the city police.
On May 11, 1967, student demonstrations took place on Lynch Street in Jackson, and ultimately city and state officers fired into the crowd. Brown, a bystander, was shot once in the back and a second time in the back of the head, suffering wounds from which he later died, and several others were also seriously injured. Brown died on May 12, the day of his 22nd birthday. Brown’s killing caused a second wave of demonstrations in Jackson. Brown’s funeral drew over 1,000 people.
Mississippi authorities made no arrests in connection with Brown’s death at the time of the shooting. The Jackson Police Department opened a new investigation, led by deputy police Chief Eddie Wilson in 1998. The case was presented to a grand jury in February 2001. No one was charged.
Brown’s mother, Ollie Mae Brown, and his widow, Margaret Brown, brought a wrongful death action in federal court against the state and its officers on May 10, 1968. The district court denied the Brown family’s motion to require the state to produce police files on Brown’s death and denied their motion for leave to dismiss the case without prejudice. The family appealed, the Fifth Circuit reversed, and the case was dismissed without prejudice in August of 1970. Ollie Mae Brown and Margaret Brown v. Allen C. Thompson, 430 F.2d 1214 (1970).
Jackson police reopened the case in 1998, in part in response to the Brown family’s appeal on the 31st anniversary of the killing. In 1999, the Jackson Police Department established a Cold Case Unit to investigate dormant investigations, including Ben Brown’s death. On May 29, 2001, a Hinds County grand jury concluded that Brown’s death was the result of actions by former Jackson police captain Buddy Kane and former Mississippi Highway Patrol Officer Lloyd Jones. Jones would later serve 19 years as sheriff of Simpson County. Both men were already deceased. The grand jury concluded that “there is evidence to support a conclusion that Brown was struck by at least two separate shots from shotguns fired by the Jackson police officer and the Mississippi Highway Patrol officer.”
Based on the grand jury report and evidence that became available as a result of fresh investigations, Ollie Mae Brown and Margaret Brown sued the Mississippi Department of Public Safety and the City of Jackson for wrongful death. Plaintiffs alleged that Jones and Kane directed their weapons at certain targets, including Brown. The case was eventually settled for an undisclosed amount in 2002.