White officer with checkered past claims self-defense in shooting death of black woman
Matt Sullivan has to climb a “mountain of evidence” before going to the Jasper County grand jury with a case that’s grown more controversial in recent months because of the heightened scrutiny law enforcement is under.
“We’re taking this really seriously and we’re going to do what’s right,” said Sullivan, who serves as district attorney in Jasper County. “I received the MBI investigative file, and it’s massive. They did their job.”
A white former Laurel police officer with a checkered past shot and killed a black woman as she was stealing his wife’s car from their home on Highway 528 near County Road 29, according to accounts from several people with knowledge of the case.
Wade Robertson is claiming self-defense. The family of 30-year-old Dominique Henry doesn’t think so. Sheriff Randy Johnson got the Mississippi Bureau of Investigation to handle the case as soon as it happened back in November because Robertson’s wife works as a part-time dispatcher for him.
Sullivan met with Henry’s mother Annie Rutledge and “several representatives of the community” last week and he met with a contingent of concerned residents about the case while he was working in Collins the previous week. Supporters and NAACP members had a rally at the Jasper County courthouse in Bay Springs on Saturday.
“They were just making sure we were on the job,” he said. “It’s a special case and it’s getting special attention.”
But that doesn’t mean he will be influenced by the politics of the case, Sullivan said.
“There are a lot of rumors that are widespread, but we’re blocking that out until we see what the investigation uncovers,” he said. “We’re going to follow the law.”
Sullivan said he discussed “possible scenarios” of what happened with Henry’s mother and others in their meeting, and those possibilities “may change as I get deeper into the file,” he said.
Sullivan said there are still “numerous video interviews” he has to watch before presenting the case to the grand jury, which is expected to be in early August.
Henry was reportedly beating on Robertson’s door, and when he went to investigate, she had gotten into his wife’s car and started driving away. When Robertson tried to stop her, she tried to run over him and he shot and killed her, sources with knowledge of the case said.
The two had no prior connection, sources with knowledge of the case said. Henry had reportedly gotten in a fight with a man she had just left Bok Homa Casino with and made him let her out of his vehicle, near Robertson’s home and poultry farm off Highway 528, just east of Bay Springs.
Robertson and Bryce Gilbert, both former LPD officers, were fired in 2018 after a high-speed pursuit that started in Laurel and ended in Jasper County when James Barnett tried to avoid a roadblock on 16th Avenue in May.
Ridgeland attorney Dow Yoder filed a lawsuit against the officers and the LPD on behalf of Barnett, claiming “racial discrimination” and a “violation of his civil rights.” The lawsuit, which represents only one side of a legal argument, claimed that the officers “brutally assaulted and publicly tortured Mr. Barnett on the side of a road in Jasper County.” The officers were accused of kicking Barnett repeatedly in the head and face with steel-toed boots.
Barnett was taken to a hospital first then charged with several misdemeanors before being released from LPD custody. The officers were fired after LPD and city officials viewed video of the incident. Barnett sued in U.S. Southern District Court in Hattiesburg and the lawsuit was settled last year, just days before Robertson shot Henry.
Sullivan said he never met Robertson nor Henry so he has nothing to go on but the facts of the case that have been presented to him by MBI.
“They gave me a mountain of stuff to look at,” he said. “We’re going to apply the law and seek justice, wherever that may lead us.”