Notes from the courts beat
By By Suzanne Monk
Dec. 16, 2001
The list of indictments issued by a Lauderdale County grand jury in November is expected to be officially released by the Circuit Court in the next couple of days. In the meantime, here are a couple of observations about people whose cases were considered.
MPD thefts and the
state auditor's office
Earlier this week, District Attorney Bilbo Mitchell confirmed that former police officer Rita Jack had not been indicted by a November grand jury. This may not, however, be the end of her problems.
Jack was fired Sept. 14 amid allegations that she had been involved in the theft of cash and checks from the Meridian Police Department's front desk.
If additional evidence is developed, the district attorney can present the case to a future grand jury. This is true in any criminal investigation, although my impression is that the MPD's Criminal Investigation Division presented everything it had.
The other potential problem for Jack is that there is a state-level investigation still in progress, conducted by State Auditor Phil Bryant's staff.
As an investigator for the auditor, Bingham was being careful about what he said and couldn't answer follow-up questions. But what he's most likely talking about is a "demand letter."
Good news, bad news
A demand letter asks for missing taxpayer money to be repaid; it is a civil action, not a criminal one. Demand letters can be issued by the state auditor when money has been spent inappropriately and cannot be recovered. They can be issued to an employee of a public entity the auditor's staff has deemed responsible for missing money.
Demand letters are generally issued before a grand jury meets not after. This is good news for Jack. It would be tough for the auditor to issue a demand letter to Jack after a grand jury did not find enough evidence to warrant an indictment against her.
It may be bad news for former MPD civilian employee Vivian Groves. She told police investigators she took the money and alleged that Jack was her accomplice. Acting Police Chief Benny DuBose said in September the civilian employee implicated in the thefts was co-operating with investigators and would not be prosecuted but he can make that promise only for his department.
The auditor is not bound by DuBose's agreement. Groves has admitted responsibility and it seems to me probable that she may receive a demand letter when the dust settles.
What happens when
the victim recants?
The Meridian Star reported in August that Capt. Richard Mackey, a 19-year veteran of the Meridian Fire Department, had been arrested for aggravated assault after allegedly striking a neighbor in the head with a pipe wrench.
He was suspended from his job for 30 days, and ultimately fired on Sept. 21. He appealed the termination to the Meridian Civil Service Commission, but asked that further action be delayed until after a grand jury met in November.
Meridian attorney Dan Self, representing Mackey, said in a letter written to the commission in September that his client acted in self-defense and, in any case, the alleged victim had recanted.
This is true. The victim did sign a document at the district attorney's office saying he no longer wanted to press charges.
Faced with this situation, the district attorney can use his own discretion about whether to present the case to a grand jury. A number of factors can affect this decision such as the victim's credibility or possible intimidation by an alleged attacker.
Former fire captain
has been indicted
Even though the indictment list has not yet been released, it is clear that the district attorney did present the case and that Mackey has been indicted most probably for aggravated assault or the lesser included charge of simple assault.
Self has already filed a series of pre-trial motions in the case.
The first is an extensive demand for every scrap of evidence whether on paper, audiotape or videotape created by sheriff's deputies during their investigation. It includes any statements made by witnesses that tend to exonerate Mackey. It means the victim's statement withdrawing charges.
Also part of the package filed Wednesday are: 1) a motion to dismiss the indictment because it is "fatally defective"; and 2) a motion asking that every part of the trial from pre-trial hearings to jury selection to testimony to bench conferences be recorded by a court reporter.
To be fair, this is not unusual for Dan Self. His pre-trial motions are always this extensive when he takes on a criminal case.
But, it is also clear that he and his client do not intend to "go gentle into that good night."
Suzanne Monk is managing editor of The Meridian Star. Call her at 693-1551, ext. 3229, or e-mail her at email@example.com.