Pubdate: Mon, 29 Dec 2008
Source: Clarion-Ledger, The (Jackson, MS)
Copyright: 2008 The Clarion-Ledger
Bookmark:  (Frank Melton )


U.S. District Judge Dan Jordan has ruled that Mayor  Frank Melton 
can't use the term "crack house" during  his upcoming federal civil 
rights trial in describing  alleged illegal drug activity at the 
duplex on Ridgeway  Street that has been the center of his legal woes 
for  more than two years.

That ruling leads one to wonder just how Melton should  refer to the 
former residence in mounting his defense.  What should he call it? A 
fixer-upper? The House on  Pooh Corner? Little House on the Prairie?

Melton, and his former police bodyguards Marcus Wright  and Michael 
Recio beat state charges in 2007 related to  the raid using a defense 
that largely rested on  characterizing the house as a drug haven.

But a federal grand jury in July indicted the trio on  three 
additional federal criminal counts related to  that raid.

The indictment accuses Melton of leading a group of  young men in a 
sledgehammer attack on the duplex while  Wright and Recio stood guard 
and kept neighbors at bay.

The indictment also alleged Wright used his  police-issued sidearm to 
force the duplex's occupant,  Evans Welch, from the house.

Wright pleaded guilty to a misdemeanor charge in  October in exchange 
for his agreement to testify  against Melton and Recio. Wright is 
expected to testify  that he and the other two men were aware they 
were  violating the law and that Melton had been drinking  alcohol 
prior to the incident.

Federal prosecutors fought to keep out any reference to  drug sales 
in or around the house in an attempt to keep  the trial focused on 
the civil rights charges facing  Melton and Recio.

But Jordan gave Melton and Recio a narrow window to  introduce 
evidence of illegal drug use and sales at the  duplex, as long as 
they can prove they knew about it  when they raided the house on Aug. 
26, 2006. Melton's  attorney, John Reeves, argued a jury must decide 
whether Melton had an "evil motive" in raiding the  duplex and that 
Melton should be allowed to enter a  history of drug activity at the 
house to demonstrate  his intent.

Melton and Recio are accused of violating the  constitutional rights 
of Welch and duplex owner  Jennifer Sutton to be free of unreasonable 
search and  seizure and of violating those rights under color 
of  law. They also are charged with possessing a handgun  while 
committing a crime of violence.

It is difficult to imagine how Melton can effectively  present a 
defense of his actions without the ability to  characterize the 
residence as a "crack house." But  what's lost on many, including 
apparently Melton, is  the fact that even the owners of houses where 
drug  activity is believed to be occurring have  constitutional rights.

Neither trained and certified law enforcement officers  (which Melton 
is not) nor tin-horn politicians who like  to play dress-up as 
policemen (which Melton is) can  arbitrarily dispense with the duty 
to recognize those  civil rights.

Melton will have a chance to present his case in court.  But the 
damage to this city has already been done and  continues to be done 
by the mayor's continued legal  entanglements.

Melton should resign as Jackson's mayor - and turn his  full 
attention to the serious federal charges against  him.
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MAP posted-by: Jay Bergstrom