- Jury selection for Heather Ellis continues
- Heather Ellis case one in a long line of Missouri’s racial injustices
This Nov. 4, 2009 file photo shows Heather Ellis, left, arm-in-arm with her mother, Hester Ellis, exiting the Stoddard County Justice Center in Bloomfield, Mo. (AP Photo/Corey Noles, Dexter Daily Statesman, File)
This week, for the first time, I had the chance to speak with Heather Ellis.
Heather was not previously allowed to speak, since her attorney told her to remain silent. I can tell you that after speaking with Heather for nearly two hours, she is a fine young woman. She is NOT the kind of person who needed to spend any time in prison, and I am glad she took the plea deal from the prosecution. Let me explain a few facts about the case that you may not know:
1) Heather is not admitting guilt: Anyone familiar with the criminal justice system in America should understand that there are times when you have to plead in order to make something go away. There was no smoking gun implicating Heather Ellis; there was only the risk that the jury (which her high powered attorney, Scott Rosenblum, considered to be the worst jury he’d seen in 26 years of practice) was going to send her to prison or jail.
Like most of us, Heather is not a person who wants to go to jail for any significant period of time. I personally worried that she would be abused if left in the presence of the very officers who’d attacked her on the night of her arrest, not to mention the criminals she would be incarcerated with. If she were my daughter, I would have told her to take the plea.
The good thing was that her fight led the entire nation to talk about issues that we would never have discussed otherwise. Anyone who doesn’t agree with her decision needs to go put their own child on trial with up to 15 possible years in prison and see how much yapping you do then.
2) There is no evidence of an assault on an officer and she was not convicted of these felonies: According to Heather (whom I believe and I’ll tell you why in a second), there was one police officer who was dead set on the idea of pursuing and harassing her. He followed her closely out of the store, referring to her as a b*tch and a ho. He then told her to "go back to the ghetto." That is when Heather turned and asked him why he was harassing her instead of chasing real criminals. That is when he said, "Because I want to harass your stupid a**." That is also the officer who, without warning, tackled Heather and dragged her to the police car.
The reason Heather’s story is credible is because this officer had been fired from another job for sexual harassment and had lied on the witness stand in the past. Her attorney’s research uncovered the officer’s dirty past, and Heather discussed this issue in more detail in our conversation.
3) This was not a jury of her peers: Heather’s father, Pastor Nathaniel Ellis, told me that he had wanted to push the trial to the very end. What changed his mind, he said, was seeing his daughter break down in tears over the idea of going to jail or prison.
The prospect of spending 15 years in jail was probably the last thing on a Missouri woman’s mind nearly three years ago when she switched checkout lines at a Walmart store.
Heather Ellis, inset, could face up to 15 years in prison after allegedly assaulting police officers who asked her to leave a Walmart store in Missouri when she cut a line to be with her cousin.
(Courtesy Your Black World/Getty Images)
But jail’s a possibility for Heather Ellis, 24, who goes on trial today for charges stemming from a dispute at the Kennett, Mo., Walmart.
Ellis faces charges of disturbing the peace, trespassing, resisting arrest and assaulting police officers after she became"belligerent" when she was asked to leavethe store Jan. 6, 2007, authorities say.
The schoolteacher could face 15 years in prison, if convicted.
But Ellis, who is black, has said that the charges are racially motivated, and that she has been unfairly targeted, which authorities deny.
Heather Ellis is shown alongside her mother, Hester Ellis, outside the Justice Center at Bloomfield last month following her pre-trial hearing in a case that has gained national attention. At right is Ellis’ attorney, Timothy Hunsaker from the St. Louis firm of Rosenblum, Schwartz, Rogers and Glass. Also pictured (at left) is an unidentified member of the American Civil Liberties Union.
(Staff photo by Noreen Hyslop)
A motion filed in a Dunklin County courtroom brings a new twist to the case against Heather Ellis, a case that has garnered national media attention.
Ellis, an African-American woman from Kennett, is charged in connection with an incident at the Kennett Walmart in 2007 during which she was arrested and charged with two counts of the Class C felony assault on a law enforcement officer, one count of the Class B misdemeanor peace disturbance and one count of the Class A misdemeanor resisting arrest. Ellis was charged as a result of a scuffle that broke out in a checkout line at the store, following Ellis being accused by associates employed by Walmart of cutting in line.
The motion in question, filed by Ellis’ attorney on November 2, involves Ellis’ legal representation requesting Dunklin County Prosecuting Attorney Stephen Sokoloff to recuse himself from the case.
Editor’s Note: Watch Randi Kaye’s full report tonight on Anderson Cooper 360 at 10pm ET.
Randi Kaye| BIO
Is it a classic case of “he said, she said,” or is it a brutal case of racism? Whatever it is, it may land a Missouri woman, a preacher’s daughter who has never been in trouble with the law before, in jail.
It all apparently started at a Walmart store in Kennett, Missouri where according to police, customer Heather Ellis had cut in line to pay for her items. What followed is at the heart of a court case that may send Heather Ellis to jail for as many as 15 years!
Let me first say Ms. Ellis has pleaded not guilty. But here’s how police tell it: officers say they were called to the store after Ellis caused a “disturbance” at the cash register by “yelling and cursing.” Officers say when they tried to get her to leave the store, she turned and yelled at them, “I ain’t going nowhere until I get my (expletive) change back” but that even after she got her change, she continued to be “belligerent.” The lead officer says they tried to get her to remain calm and leave in a peaceful manner and told her they’d arrest her if she refused. That is when the lead officer says Ellis “issued a threat to assault” and said if the officer put their hands on her “she was going to beat my (expletive).” Well, it turned ugly according to police, who say she became “combative and began fighting.” The officers say Ellis “continued to fight, yell and curse” and was “completely out of control.” They say she “resisted arrest” and “stiffened her body” when they tried to put her in the police car. Read the full police report here.