I have been actively involved in the fight for Heather Ellis, the 24-year old school teacher now facing up to 15-years in prison for cutting line at a local Wal-Mart. Although Heather has now reached a plea deal with prosecutors over her arrested, there are still questions that need to be answered. No, she was not charged with cutting in line, but it was the cashier’s reaction to the alleged line cut which led to the relevant sequence of events. Had the cashier been more professional and not refused to serve Heather, none of this would have happened (You hear that Walmart? Perhaps that’s why your attorneys are telling you to remain silent).
I have five simple questions about the trial of Heather Ellis:
1) If “no one was seriously injured,” why was she facing up to 15-years in prison?
In the opening statements of the trial, the prosecutor in the case, Morley Swingle (the dandy fellow with the Confederate flag on the cover of his book) stated that “There was no serious injury, but it did hurt,” when referring to the alleged assaults committed by Ms. Ellis. If no one was seriously injured, does that constitute a Class-C felony? This statement was quite telling when it comes to understanding the style of justice being administered in the Southeast Missouri area (which is why we are sending our reports to the Justice Department after the trial is over). Given that Ellis appears to have been the only person to go to the hospital after she allegedly beat down all of these great big men, it would seem to me that perhaps she might be the one who is able to file an assault charge against the officers. Additionally, the defense attorney on the case, Scott Rosenblum, presented evidence in court of there being blood in Heather Ellis’ jacket pocket from the night of the incident. This would be consistent with her claim to the doctor the next day that she was assaulted by the police.
Heather Ellis is facing 15-years in prison for allegedly cutting line at a Wal-Mart store in Missouri.
Heather Ellis is in trouble. The 24-year old preacher’s daughter has spent most of her life doing the right things: Going to college, getting ready for medical school and staying out of trouble. What Heather didn’t realize is that even when you do the right things, your margin of error as a person of color in America is virtually non-existent.
When I wrote my book, “What if George Bush were a Black Man?” the key point was that America’s justice system has a difficult time understanding that punishments must match the magnitude of the crime that has allegedly been committed. The actions that a “frat boy” can get away with 20 times during college can send an African American to prison for the next 20-years. America is a country that has, without question, consistently over-charged, over-searched, over-incarcerated and over-sentenced African Americans for the past 400 years of its existence.
Given its ugly past, the criminal justice system has very little credibility, and even police reports are subject to being questioned – especially in a town like Kennett, MO. My father’s a cop, so I know how all this works. Even when black men were lynched 100 years ago, there were always “witnesses” and police reports to say that he was a bad person. Fortunately, lynching does not occur anymore (although a black boy – Walter Currie Jr. – was burned alive by his white classmate in the same area as Heather), but the noose has been replaced with the long prison sentence as the most typical and most devastating form of punishment. As a result, black men and women are filling up America’s penitentiaries at an alarming rate, and it is destroying the core of the black family.
The Dunklin County prosecuting attorney has stepped aside in a criminal case with racial overtones, and Cape Girardeau County Prosecuting Attorney Morley Swingle has been appointed as special prosecutor.
Swingle has been asked to prosecute Kennett resident Heather Ellis. In an incident at the Kennett Walmart in 2007, Ellis was arrested and charged with two counts of felony assault on a law enforcement officer, a count of misdemeanor peace disturbance and a count of misdemeanor resisting arrest.
A scuffle broke out in a checkout line at the store after she was accused of cutting in line.
Ellis’ attorney filed a motion Nov. 2 requesting Dunklin County Prosecuting Attorney Stephen Sokoloff to recuse himself from the case.
Sokoloff was accused by Ellis’ lawyers of "making extrajudicial comments that have a substantial likelihood of heightening public condemnation of the accused."
On Thursday, Judge Joe Satterfield denied the request, saying there was no legal basis for it.
According to the defense motion, Sokoloff replied to a story about the case written by Michael I. Niman of Progressive Populist, a twice-monthly publication.
The rally is on! Visit www.TheHeatherEllisCase.com for more information. Dr. Boyce Watkins and The Your Black World Coalition are organizing the rally, along with the NAACP, SCLC and ACLU. Come down to Kennett Missouri with us on March 16!
Just when you thought black celebrities didn’t care anymore, the "Bad Boy of Radio,"Michael Baisden announced today that he is going to give $5,000 to the legal defense fund of the family of Heather Ellis, a 24-year old black female college student who faces 15-years in prison after cutting in line at a Walmart.
One of the things that make America unique is its Constitution, specifically the Bill of Rights. In its original form, the Constitution did not include a list of basic civil liberties or guarantees to the individual. Many prominent Americans, including Thomas Jefferson insisted that a list of fundamental protections be included to restrain the national government from tampering with the fundamental rights and civil liberties of its citizens. The intent of the framers of the Constitution was to level the playing field. They felt it necessary to restrain the very powerful government, prosecutors, and police from arbitrary and capricious action against the less powerful individual. Over time these protections have been passed down to the state level.
The case of Heather Ellis is a perfect present day example of why individual American citizens need to be protected from over zealous capricious prosecutors and police. For a young woman to be facing up to fifteen years in prison for trespassing, disturbing the peace, and two felony counts of assaulting a police officer, all for allegedly cutting a check-out line at a Wal-Mart is unconscionable.