Downtown protest leads to arrest, allegations

Published 12:12am Tuesday, June 4, 2013

NATCHEZ — A downtown protest took a turn for the worse Monday after Adams County Sheriff’s Office deputies Tazed and arrested a Michigan woman who allegedly refused to comply with deputies.

Members of the National Action Network, the group that allegedly organized the protest, said the arrest was unwarranted and a clear display of police brutality.

Debra Pernell-Simmons, 55, of Farmington Hills, Mich., was arrested and charged Monday with picketing which interferes with access to government buildings, property, streets and sidewalks and resisting arrest.

Sheriff Chuck Mayfield said the group was given a copy of Mississippi Code 97-7-63, which states that it’s unlawful for any person to engage in picketing or mass demonstrations in such a manner as to obstruct or unreasonably interfere with public premises, state property, county or municipal courthouses.

“They were warned about getting off the sidewalk multiple times by deputies,” Mayfield said. “One of the protestors confronted the deputies screaming on a bullhorn, and deputies arrested her.

“They were given copies of the law, but decided to push it.”

Walter Shinn, a Columbus resident and member of NAN, said the group of a dozen protestors had a permit to protest and was told by the city the group could be on the sidewalk.

“I’ve never seen that much police brutality against a woman who wasn’t doing anything wrong,” Shinn said. “They warned us and followed up on what they said they were going to do, but we had a permit that said we could be on that sidewalk.”

The group originally started their protest in front of City Hall on Pearl Street, but was told they couldn’t be there by Natchez Mayor Butch Brown, Shinn said.

Members of the group proceeded to walk down Market Street and were eventually stopped by deputies near the entrance to the courthouse.

A video Shinn took on his phone shows deputies requesting the protesters not stand on the sidewalk.

The deputies then surrounded Simmons who appears to be arguing with the officials in the video.

After a brief conversation with Simmons, the deputies attempt to handcuff Simmons and place her under arrest.

The deputies Tazed Simmons after she resisted arrest, Mayfield said.

“The Tazing is to keep the person getting arrested from getting hurt and to keep the officers from getting hurt,” Mayfield said. “I’m satisfied with the report I read and the conversations I had with the officer who made the arrest.

“We surely don’t mind legal protests, but they were warned over and over and given every chance and kept pushing it to the limit.”

Shinn said the group’s protest stemmed from an incident involving Natchez resident Glennese Scott, who claims her mistreatment while in custody at the Adams County Jail in 2003 led to her having a miscarriage.

“We came down here for her, but we’re staying for Mrs. Simmons,” Shinn said. “NAN members stand by NAN members.”

Scott said she applied for the permit, which stated the group could rally and protest on Market Street.

“When we made it there, they had the whole sheriff’s department there and said we would go to jail if we did it in front of the courthouse,” Scott said. “We’re going to organized another protest, because I won’t give up.”

Simmons, who is the vice president on the NAN Columbus chapter, remained in jail as of Monday evening held on a $2,500 bond.