Did a Mississippi mayor go too far when he directed a group of people to destroy a suspected crack house? That’s the case before the federal court, where prosecutors are accusing Jackson, Miss. Mayor Frank Melton of violating the civil rights of the house’s owner and her tenant.
In August of 2006, Melton told a group of men to destroy what he believed to be a crack house, using sticks and sledgehammers. Melton doesn’t deny that he damaged the duplex, and has said he was just keeping true to the promise he made to aggressively cut crime.
He and his former bodyguard, Michael Recio, face up to 25 years in prison on three felony charges. They’ve both pleaded not guilty and Melton has previously been acquitted on state charges. Another former guard, Marcus Wright, took a plea deal and has testified against the mayor and others.
Since being elected in 2005, Melton’s tough-on-crime approach has included heading to the streets with guns and being active in police checkpoints around the city, reports the Associated Press.
The state’s Attorney General, Jim Hood, however, testified that he told Melton in the months leading up to the house’s destruction, that some of his methods to combat crime were “stepping close to, if not over, the line.”
Duplex owner, Jennifer Sutton, also took the stand for prosecutors and described how she felt when she saw her property destroyed.
“I couldn’t believe it so I drove around twice just trying to grasp what was going on,” she said. Although Melton called her after the incident, she says she couldn’t speak to him.
“It was rude, loud and I just hung up,” she testified. “He was disrespectful.”
Sutton, who cleans homes for a living and purchased several duplexes to earn extra cash, didn’t live in the house.
She rented the property out to 48-year-old Evan Welch, a schizophrenic with an extensive criminal past, reports the AP. The attorney for one of the defendants claims that Welch was being bullied by drug dealers who were using the house to sell drugs. Welch was the one who asked Melton to “tear the house down,” the attorney said.
Prosecution testimony will continue this week.