November 20, 2009

Heather Ellis Accepts Plea Deal for Cutting Line at Walmart

Heather Ellis, 24, accused of cutting in line at a Walmart, shoving merchandise and assaulting police officers will plead guilty to disturbing the peace and resisting arrest, both misdemeanors.

Under the terms of the deal, she will also serve a year of unsupervised probation, attend an anger management course and serve four days in jail before the end of the year.

The plea agreement was reached after the jury received the case for deliberations. Ms. Ellis avoids possible 15-year sentence by taking this plea deal.

Read the full story here.

4 comments: said...

Hi Wayne!

Actually, her plea deal didn't have anything to do with cutting in line at Walmart since cutting in line was not the reason WHY police were called to the store. The manager didn't call the police to report a customer had cut in line.

The manager called to report that a customer was disrespecting other customers and creating a disturbance and refusing to obey directives.

Oh, but who cares about being factual in the blogosphere? *LOL* It's far more fun to do tabloid headlines! I've done a few of them at my own blog.

I think that Heather has wasted several years with this. She was offered a plea deal from the very beginning and she refused to take it...claiming that she did nothing wrong. Either all of the store customers are lying on her (including her cousin who says she stepped in front of other customers) or she actually started the entire incident with her foolishness.

I don't doubt that there are racists in Kennett.

I don't doubt that there are KKK members in Kennett either.

However, KKK members did not force her to take the actions she did which resulted in verbal reprimand from the cashier - which she refused to accept. If she had stepped out of line when confronted then the police would never have been called.

Heather escalated the situation.

I don't blame the other customers in line for yelling at her when she tried to get in front of them. I doubt they did so out of bigotry.

Heather wasn't confronted by the cashier because she was black. She was confronted because she was being rude. Bottom line.

Peace, blessings and DUNAMIS!

Villager said...

Lisa - I agree with you on most points. Ms. Ellis was part of the problem. However, my reason for watching the case was the 15-year penalty that the prosecutor wanted to give her. That seemed way out of line.

PPR_Scribe said...

The "15-year sentence" is another part of the tall tale that grew up in the 'sphere over this story. My hunch is that the crime for which she was being prosecuted for (which, as Lisa and others have said, was *not* for "cutting in line") carried a maximum sentence of 15 years. The more appropriate statement is that she could face up to 15 years. (I think your qualifier "possible" may even be too strong for what would have been likely.)

Judges often have a great deal of leeway, especially in nonviolent cases, in the amount of time to actually sentence a convicted offender to. It is unlikely that she would have received 15 years.

But it seems this woman and her handlers were convinced--at least at first--that they'd be able to whip up popular (Black) support for her case. At one point I read that the local NAACP president was hoping for a "Jena 6-type response." In addition, there had been accounts set up to collect money for her legal defense.

That she is now accepting the plea might suggest that they did not receive the unquestioned support they were hoping for.

Villager said...

Soulclap to Boyce Watkins for writing:

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.

3) This was not a jury of her peers: Heather's father, Pastor Nathaniel Ellis, told me that he 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 truth was that this town has a history of sending black people to prison for long periods of time (some of whom didn't do very much to get there. This is known as the strictest county in Missouri and African Americans are more likely than whites to be searched and stopped in this town), and it was almost certain that she was going to be convicted of the misdemeanors, which could carry up to six months in jail. Since cops tend to stick together (I know this well, since my father is a cop), they could not be certain that the jury was going to let her go on the misdemeanor counts. But the most important point is that even if she did raise her voice (which I am not sure if she did), this does not warrant her facing prison or even jail time. It's easy to get arrested for disturbing the peace, since raising your voice at another person can be described as disturbing the peace. I've disturbed someone else's peace at least five times this week.

5) This case is not a "yes" or "no" dichotomy: Many people seem to take the view that if Heather yelled at the clerk (which there is no reliable evidence that she did), she somehow deserves whatever punishment the state decides to throw at her. That's silly, since the punishment must fit the crime. I would not have intervened in this case if they were simply trying to charge her with misdemeanors. But the idea that they were threatening her with unsubstantiated felonies, to be tried by a small town jury reminds me of modern day Jim Crow. The felonies should never have been on the table in the first place, since they never occurred. Also, Heather is filing a complaint against the officer who assaulted and verbally abused her. Signing the plea deal does not, in any way, mean that "she was guilty all along." What it means is that she was not guilty of all of the horrible things they were accusing her of doing. At worst, the witnesses could only argue that she was guilty of raising her voice (but the witness testimony was incredibly problematic, and some even admitted that they'd been coached by the prosecutor).