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Holmes County charges against Jelani Barr dismissed today

Tuesday, May 26, 2015, 8:07 pm News Flash Archive

This afternoon, at the trial of Greenwood activist and Democrat candidate for Lt. Governor Jelani Barr, the Holmes County Justice Court Judge dismissed the charges for which Barr had been arrested on March 16th.

Barr was left only to pay the fine for speeding, which he did not contest.

In the incident, which made state-wide news, Barr was pulled over for speeding on March 16th by Mississippi Highway Patrolman Chris Simmons just outside the town of Tchula, MS. The routine traffic stop turned ugly, however, with Mr. Barr being thrown to the ground by Simmons and fellow MHP Officer Marcus Barnett and arrested.

Barr was charged with disorderly conduct, resisting arrest, and disturbing the peace. Barr later published a video on Youtube showing parts of the incident which he and his girlfriend had managed to capture on their cell phones. Parts of the video were then broadcast on Jackson television stations.

With both Holmes County Justice Court judges recusing themselves, specially appointed Judge Shirley Cummings from neighboring Humphreys County presided over the three hour trial this afternoon on the town square in Lexington.

The Taxpayers Channel was the only media to cover the event, but no cameras were permitted by the court.

Simmons testified that he clocked Barr driving 70 mph by radar and pulled him over. When Barr handed Simmons his drivers license and insurance card, Simmons demanded that Barr roll down his window completely. Simmons refused to tell Barr why he had been pulled over, and when Barr declined to roll the window down further, Simmons ordered him out of the vehicle.

Barr repeatedly asked Simmons what his probable cause was, and Simmons continued demanding Barr step out of the vehicle. Simmons then called for backup, and MHP Officer Marcus Barnett appeared to assist Simmons.

When Barr exited the vehicle, Simmons and Barnett arrested Barr, attempted to handcuff him, and ultimately threw him to the ground and handcuffed him there.

Simmons and Barnett then inventoried the contents of the car, and had it towed off, even though the car belonged to the passenger, Barr's girlfriend Adrienne Hicks.

Simmons charged Barr with disorderly conduct (failure to comply), disturbing the peace, and resisting arrest.

Astoundingly, one month later, Simmons had Ms. Hicks arrested also, charging her with disorderly conduct for the same incident.

Initially, Simmons claimed that he could not tell Barr the reason he had been pulled over until he had secured "officer safety." Simmons claimed he wanted Barr to roll down his window as a safety precaution.

However, testimony by both Simmons and Barnett made it clear that the real reason they wanted Barr to roll down his window was so they could "sniff" inside his car to see whether there were signs of drug or alcohol use. Officers failed to find any such evidence when they later inventoried the vehicle.

Judge Cummings was greatly disturbed by the officers seeming pretextual reason for demanding that Barr roll down his window. She repeatedly questioned the officers whether they had probable cause to suspect use of intoxicating substances, and they did not.

Simmons and Barnett testified that, when Barr did exit the vehicle, he did so in a very aggressive manner. Simmons also claimed that Barr's resistance to arrest was that he was "tense." Incredibly, Simmons swore under oath that most people are "relaxed" when he arrests them.

But the trooper's video disturbed the Judge further. It did not sustain the officers' claims that Barr exited his vehicle in an aggressive manner. It did not support their claim that he had resisted arrest, or that he or Ms. Hicks had been disorderly or disturbed the peace.

The Judge repeatedly rebuked Officer Simmons for overreacting, and turning a simple speeding ticket into an unnecessary arrest. She questioned both officers about routine procedure in stopping speeding motorists, and determined that Simmons had not followed that procedure, but had made demands of Barr that were unnecessary and unrelated to the speeding offence.

The Judge ascertained that at no time were the officers in any danger or fear for their lives. She also was skeptical of Simmons' claim that he couldn't adequately observe the vehicle's occupants, especially after Officer Barnett readily described how he could see them clearly through the windows when he arrived on the scene.

The Judge elicited testimony that, even after Barr exited the vehicle, Simmons never told him why he had been stopped in the first place. "How were you trained?" the Court asked Simmons skeptically. Judge Cummings asked repeatedly, and louder, for Simmons to explain his probable cause to justify taking the matter further than simply issuing a citation for speeding, but she received no satisfactory answer.

Judge Cummings took note of the fact that she had 25 years experience as a law enforcement officer.

The Judge also wanted to know whose peace was disturbed, and Simmons replied, the people in the Dollar General parking lot. The Judge retorted that was called being nosy. No person other than Officer Simmons filed a complaint for disturbing the peace against Barr, and the Court informed him that having his peace disturbed was part of his job.

The Judge pointed out that the three charges were an example of "doubling up" - that actually, the conduct alleged for them was really all the same. She asked Simmons, "Why should he [Barr] comply when you never told him the charges?"

The Judge was disturbed by the fact that Simmons threatened to tow the vehicle with Barr and Hicks still in it, and demanded to know why Hicks wasn't allowed to drive her own car home, since she was not impaired in any way. Simmons replied that it was "officer discretion" whether to tow the vehicle or release it to the owner, Ms. Hicks.

After watching the Highway Patrol video, which displayed extreme hostility and unreasonable behavior by Simmons, the Judge admonished him: "Clearly you overstepped your boundaries." She also chastised Simmons: "He [Barr] gave you his license and registration that you did not even take the time to look at!"

"As an officer, your job is to protect and serve," the Judge admonished Simmons repeatedly. She then found Barr guilty of speeding, but said that as far as all the other charges were concerned, "the evidence shows something different." She found that Simmons had used "force that should not have been used in a traffic stop." It "could have been avoided if you [Simmons] had told him why he was stopped."

Judge Cummings ruled that none of the officers' lives were in danger, and that the evidence showed that they never believed their lives were in danger. She said that she saw no evidence of either Barr or Hicks behaving disorderly.

"That's not how it works. All other charges are dismissed."

Barr and Hicks were represented by Greenwood attorney Tom Calhoun.

The trial was vintage Justice Court fare, with Judge Cummings completely taking over the questioning of Simmons for almost an hour as she reviewed the patrol car video at the bench.

Barr and Hicks never got a chance to testify or put on any defense before the Court summarily dismissed the three arrest charges.

Barr paid the speeding ticket and left court a free man. As he left, half a dozen local officers, policemen, and bailiffs shook his hand and wished him luck.

John Pittman Hey
The Taxpayers Channel

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