Titan official ‘flabbergasted’ by verdict

Published 12:00 am Tuesday, October 26, 1999

In a decision that &uot;flabbergasted&uot; Titan Tire officials, 16 Steelworkers and one person working for the union were declared not guilty of trespassing on Titan property.

Natchez Municipal Judge John Tipton delivered a directed verdict Tuesday in favor of members of Local 303L of the United Steelworkers of America on charges of trespassing at Titan Tire last month.

&uot;All I can say is I am flabbergasted,&uot; said Dave Fines, operations manager for Titan Tire of Natchez.

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&uot;This was clearly an instance in which people were breaking the law. It was a volatile situation in which there could have been loss of life,&uot; he said.

Sixteen members of the local Steelworkers Union were arrested for trespassing on Titan Tire of Natchez property Sept. 11 following a rally at the nearby Union Hall on Gayosa Street.

Mike Willey, a photojournalist hired to take photos for the union, was charged with trespassing on Sept. 17.

Union members pushed their way through the front gate at the tire manufacturer following a march to the plant.

The verdict came after a day of testimony from 15 witnesses including Titan officials, representatives from The Natchez Democrat and Natchez Police Seargent Danny White.

&uot;I feel great,&uot; said Leo &uot;T-Bone&uot; Bradley, president of American Local 303L of the United Steelworkers of America.

&uot;Once again, we’ve proven that we do things by the law,&uot; he said. &uot;Once again, we’re not the bad guys.&uot;

The union has been on strike against Titan Tire of Natchez since that company took over the old Fidelity Tire plant in September 1998.

Paul A. Koerber, defense attorney for the union, said he was relieved at the ruling.

&uot;I believe the entire situation was provoked,&uot; he said. &uot;These guys did nothing wrong.&uot;

City prosecutor Eileen Maher said the ruling was just.

&uot;I believe the judge made a very fair ruling,&uot; Maher said. &uot;The activity there didn’t rise to the level of a criminal offense.&uot;

Maher said that union members didn’t damage property and left peacefully when asked to leave.

&uot;It didn’t meet the statutory requirements for trespass,&uot; she said.

Tipton, too, realized the decision could be considered a controversial one.

&uot;I realized a long time ago that when I render a decision one side or another will say I was wrong,&uot; Tipton said in his ruling.

Tipton said the purpose of the state’s trespass statute is to adequately inform people who are already on property to leave.

&uot;All defendants were on the property of Titan Tire,&uot; Tipton said.

But with the noise and confusion of the scene, Tipton said he could not in good conscience say the defendants were property notified of their trespass.

&uot;Once the defendants were requested by police to leave, it took no longer than five minutes for them to leave without violence,&uot; Tipton said.

Tipton said he was not convinced that any of the defendants could have heard security officers tell them they were trespassing above the noise of the demonstration.

Viewing a security videotape further convinced Tipton that the noise level could have interfered with communication at the gate.

Because of these questions, Tipton ruled in favor of the defense’s motion for a directed verdict.

Bradley said the next move in the ongoing strike between the union and Titan Tire lies with Titan CEO Morry Taylor.

&uot;It’s up to Morry Taylor,&uot; Bradley said. &uot;Carlisle told him to take a hike. He can come settle with us or let it go down the hill.&uot;