Friday, July 25, 2008
Jackson attorney Chokwe Lumumba said his client, Upper Level owner Sandra Moore Johnson, will appeal a recent decision by Hinds County Justice Court Judge Jimmy Morton finding Johnson and employee Eric Jackson guilty of interfering with the duties of a police officer. Morton also found club manager Tonarri Moore guilty of resisting arrest and using abusive language.
All three got 30 days in jail, plus court costs, with Johnson getting 15 days suspended.
Lumumba said the lack of evidence in the case would pull it to pieces under the scrutiny of a jury.
The charges sprang from an August 26, 2006, raid on the club by Jackson Mayor Frank Melton, who was accompanied by police, Melton's personal bodyguardsMichael Recio and Marcus Wrightand several young men traveling with the mayor.
Moore later claimed the young people traveling with Melton attacked him after police put him in handcuffs. He claims that their kicking and beating him warranted an ambulance ride to the Central Mississippi Medical Center for physical trauma treatment.
Lumumba said he has footage showing one of the assailants exiting the Mobile Command Unit and moving his hand very rapidly to Moore's facethe initial blow of the assault, he claims. Moore filed an intent to sue the city for the assault weeks after the alleged incident, though nothing has happened with the suit since the letter of intent was filed in Hinds County Circuit Court in 2006.
The raid happened on the same night witnesses say the mayor, his bodyguards and his accomplices destroyed a home on Ridgeway Street. The Ridgeway incident is currently the focus of a federal indictment against Melton and his bodyguards for constitutional violations against the resident and owner of the property. Though Melton never testified denying his involvement in destroying the home, a Hinds County Circuit Court jury found the mayor and the bodyguards not guilty. Homeowner Jennifer Sutton announced she would sue the city for the damage in 2006.
Upper Level security cameras both in and outside the buildingas well as owners' and patrons' cell phone cameras and camcorderscaught footage of the Upper Level raid, and Lumumba told the Jackson Free Press that none of it shows his client resisting arrest. The film, he said, also contradicts Wright's claim that the crowd was hostile and that club security intimidated officers outside the club.
"Wright claimed Tonarri was supposed to be all up in Wright's face, but you can clearly see Wright walking toward him. What actually happens is Tonarri realizing that Wright was coming to take his camera and Tonarri giving the camcorder to the manager, who then hid it behind the counter. That pissed Wright off, and that's why Tonarri wound up getting arrested," Lumumba said.
Wright and Recio are currently on administrative leave in connection to the federal indictments and did not return calls to the Jackson Free Press. Judge Morton did not return calls either, while county prosecutor Malcolm Harrison said he could not comment on the trial pending the appeal.
Lumumba said the new trial would include evidence from Melton's 2007 felony trial, including testimony rejected by judge Joe Webster suggesting the mayor was drunk on the night of the raid.
Paramedic Derrick Malone claimed in the testimony that he "smelled the aroma of alcohol" in the ambulance and observed that "... Melton's speech was slurred." Malone goes on to describe how Melton put on a stethoscope, placed the chestpiece against Moore and joked, "Nope, he doesn't have a heart."
Testimony from CMMC nurse Josh Foster alleges Melton continued to badger Moore at the hospital, even as physicians tended to his injuries. Foster eventually called his supervisor to get rid of Melton. The mayor retreated to the nurse's station and taunted CMMC employees, warning, "I am the Mayor of Jackson and by tomorrow I will own this hospital."
Both Lumumba and Harrison told the Jackson Free Press that the new trial will likely have to wait until the completion of the federal case against Melton and his bodyguards.
Lumumba said even if the court does not see fit to give him a trial by jury, his client would still benefit from a different judge, alleging bias from Morton.
"When I moved to dismiss a charge against Moore, the judge refused, even when the (law official) questioned whether or not he had even charged Moore for that. Only after Harrison got up and made a motion to dismiss it did the judge dismiss it," Lumumba said.
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