Detective Virgil Tibbs responds to an armed robbery in which he is confronted with shooting a suspect. Afterwards, Virgil has problems coming to grips with results of his actions because the person he shot happened to be a teenage girl and to make things worse, the gun Virgil believed that was aimed at him cannot be found.
Detective Virgil Tibbs' niece from Philadelphia comes to Sparta to visit but soon becomes bored with the happenings of small town life until she meets Bubba's nephew. They both get a little more adventure than they hoped for when they come across a dangerous ex-con who is out on parole.
In the red light district of the Bottoms, Topaz/Roberta Strutt finds her friend Charmaine Rogers murdered. The Sparta police are called to investigate. Virgil Tibbs rousts a high profile pimp, Atticus Paul, for trying to take over Sparta's prostitution trade. Overhearing a discussion of the case in the Magnolia Cafe, attorney Royce Johnson is appalled. The owner of the Magnolia and Bill Gillespie's lady friend, Joanne St. John, hires drifter Clay Caulder as the new short order cook, which is not to Bill's liking. In a sweep of the Bottoms, Bill and Virgil find Clay ...
Detective Virgil Tibbs and Althea get invited to attend services by a minister who is trying to integrate his all white church, but soon afterward Gillespie and Tibbs must investigate what's behind the mysterious poisoning of the minister.
Two parallel plots. (1) George Brownlow sends word to Bill Gillespie that he wants to see the Chief at Parchman prison on the day of his execution. George was the driver in a bank holdup. Two bank robbers killed a guard and a customer before Bill killed them in return. As an accomplice, George was sentenced to die. (2) Bubba Skinner and a girl are fishing on the lake when Bubba spots two murder suspects, Melvin Nally and Lenny Cowes, near a camper trailer in the park. Virgil investigates, and the two men fire on him before being captured and arrested. At Parchman, ...
An pregnant African-American teen-age girl, Shawna Hughes, is caught shoplifting a jacket for her younger brother. Virgil Tibbs interrogates her, and Bill Gillespie releases her. She goes to the freight company to confront Dan Mackey, father of her child, who is unconcerned. That night she has premature contractions, sneaks out of the house, and has her baby in the woods. Unknown to Shawna, someone witnesses the birth. The dead infant is discovered at the city dump, and Althea Tibbs guesses who the mother is. Martin Campbell, Shawna's step-father, and her mother, ...
The Sparta P.D. is on the lookout for a burglar who is terrorizing the small town by targeting senior citizens that happen to be women who live alone, in which the main suspect is a city councilwoman's son.
Virgil Tibbs spots young woman, Lauren Casey, on the bank of the creek half in, half out of the water. She has been beaten badly. Taken to the hospital, Lauren describes a black man as the attacker, who is similar to a local man, Jimmy Dawes. Brought in for questioning, Dawes is released for lack of evidence. Bill Gillespie does not believe Lauren. Throughout the investigation, Virgil suffers horrifying flashbacks to his childhood along the creek. Bill solves the case with the help of Althea.
Sibling rivalry is at the core of this episode, when Detective Virgil Tibbs' childhood friend comes back home to Sparta to see about her ill father, although she doesn't exactly get a warm reception from her sister for her visit. The sisters then become murder suspects when their father is poisoned.
A woman accuses Sgt. Bubba Skinner as her attacker after she leaves a bar. Then a second woman comes forward to accuse Sgt. Bubba Skinner of rape. Meanwhile, Chief Gillespie goes up against a driven district attorney who plans to use the case for the good of his career.
Sparta is in grief when a drunk driver causes a fatal car crash with high school cheerleaders on their way home after a game. Althea tries to counsel the victim's families to cope with their loss, while the Sparta P. D. is searching for the other driver. Acting Chief Tom Dugan has to deal with bad memories that come back to him due to this tragedy. Also the police department is up against D.A. Dutton after he accuses them of not properly handling the investigation.
Sgt. Bubba Skinner and Detective Virgil Tibbs must team up to stop a serial arsonist while Chief Gillispie is in Quantico. Meanwhile, retired Capt. Tom Dugan is officially appointed acting chief by Councilwoman Lorraine White, which doesn't go over too well in the police department.
The Chief's men pay him a surprise visit only to find his home ransacked, Joanne unconscious and Chief Gillespie missing. Detective Virgil Tibbs suspects that Capt. Tom Dugan knows more about the Chief's disappearance.
Althea Tibbs is raped by fellow teacher Stephen Ainslee after she comes home from grocery shopping. Althea says it was Stephen Ainslee that raped her even though she never saw his face but she recognized his voice. Detective Virgil Tibbs has problems coming to grips on how his wife could let something like this happen to her which infuriates Althea. Linda Ainslee, who is Stephen's wife, tells the Sparta P.D. at the time of the rape, her husband Stephen was at home with her which further complicates the charge against him. Stephen ends up threatening and harassing ...
Rochelle Conlan grows tired of the abuse from her wealthy husband Clarence Conlan. She and her lover, Roscoe Jeffrey, come up with a scheme to get rid of him, but her plan goes awry when the evidence seems to point to Rochelle's stepson, John Conlan, as the one responsible for the murder. Afterwards, she and Roscoe are at odds on how to resolve this issue. The Sparta P.D. ends up using a clever ruse to catch the true perpetrators of this crime.
Chief Bill Gillespie introduces Officer Christine Rankin to the Sparta City Council as the first African American woman to serve in the police department. Officer Rankin is sent out on a case almost immediately.
Officer Wilson Sweet recognizes symptoms of the crack epidemic in a teenage girl caught trying to pawn items taken from her parents' home. Sweet has a personal connection to this case because he had a cousin who died due to the drug. Chief Gillespie tells Sweet to stay off the case because of his emotional involvement to it. Sweet disobeys the Chief's orders and goes after the drug dealer who supplied the crack to the girl.
Chief Bill Gillespie fears that when civil rights leader Rev. John Carter comes to Sparta that there will be an attempt on his life from the same culprits responsible for Capt. Tom Dugan's murder and Chief Gillespie's kidnapping. Detective Virgil Tibbs tries to convince Rev. John Carter to leave Sparta due to the concern for his safety but Carter insists on staying.
A private investigator from New York who comes to Sparta to investigate a missing child case falls to her death after the meeting she had set up with a local dance teacher named Kate Morell, in whom Officer Parker Williams has a crush on. When Detective Virgil Tibbs questions the woman, he has a feeling that she isn't telling the whole story which doesn't go over too well with Parker.