Judge dismisses charges in Moose Lodge incident
By By Suzanne Monk / managing editor
June 26, 2004
Defense attorneys for Leslie "Zero" Wilkes and Tommy Temple didn't have to present a single witness Friday during a simple assault trial in Lauderdale County Justice Court.
Judge William Gunn dismissed the charges against their clients right after the state rested its case ruling that the issues were so clear there was no need for a defense.
The incident that resulted in misdemeanor criminal charges occurred on Sept. 12, 2003, after controversy arose over accusations of racial bigotry, fraud and favoritism at the 186th Air Refueling Wing.
On that evening, Wilkes and Temple were at the Moose Lodge when retired Col. Joe H. Bryant came in to order two steak dinners to go.
Bryant is the whistle-blower in what has become a large-scale investigation of the 186th ARW. Wilkes and Temple are former members of the unit.
There were words and Bryant filed simple assault charges against Wilkes and Temple. He claimed they pushed him, verbally assaulted him and threatened him with a weapon.
The prosecution's case
Special prosecutor Bill Ready Jr. presented five witnesses, and Bryant, who were at the Moose Lodge on Sept. 12, 2003.
They described a tense situation. The testimony indicated that Temple and Wilkes taunted Bryant with mild expletives from their table near the door.
Moose Lodge member Dan Denton offered to stick around and walk Bryant out to his truck. So did Troy Moore: "I thought he might want me to stay in case they jumped him or anything."
Bryant declined their offers.
Witnesses described Wilkes and Temple approaching Bryant's table and sitting down.
The Moose governor, Michael Ray Johnston, said he went to Bryant's table a couple of times to see if there was a problem. He heard, as did several other witnesses, threats about going outside and beating Bryant up.
In his testimony, Bryant reported rougher language than other witnesses, words spoken from a foot away over the din of Karoake music. He also testified he thought Wilkes and Temple were armed.
Bryant said he tried to avoid the confrontation. All he wanted, he said, was to get his order and leave.
In the end, two lodge members walked Bryant to his truck. Wilkes and Temple were asked to leave and escorted out by four lodge members.
The judge's decision
Attorney Dan Self represented Wilkes; Bob Bresnahan represented Temple. Both moved for an immediate dismissal of the charges after the state rested its case.
Bresnahan described the filing of charges as a "colossal overreaction by Mr. Bryant."
Judge Gunn agreed. He said Bryant's refusal of several offers of assistance was an indication that he did not, in fact, feel threatened. Gunn also noted that if Bryant did feel threatened, he didn't have to stay.
Bryant could have simply left, the judge said, that's what he would have done.
Ready said he thinks the judge has misinterpreted the simple assault statute.
Bryant's fear, Ready said, doesn't have to make sense or be "reasonable" to anyone but himself and how Judge Gunn would have handled the situation is irrelevant.
He also said conviction requires only an attempt, successful or not, to put someone in imminent fear of harm through physical menace.
Ready plans to appeal the dismissal to Lauderdale County Court.