Natchez man appeals license revocation

Published 12:00 am Thursday, July 12, 2001

The Associated Press

JACKSON — Four teachers with felony records, including two with drug convictions, are appealing to a state commission to keep their Mississippi teaching licenses.

”I am a victim of circumstances,” Henry Bell of Natchez, who has taught in Webb and Greenville and some Louisiana districts, told commissioners Wednesday during a license revocation hearing.

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Bell, now 53, pleaded guilty in 1998 to a cocaine possession charge in Jefferson County. He said he recently was released after serving 2 1/2 years in prison.

The Baptist church deacon says he didn’t have any cocaine but he pleaded guilty because he didn’t trust a judge or prosecutors handling his case. He says a man broke into one of his homes near Fayette and planted cocaine there in 1994.

”This was a number one setup from the word ‘go,”’ Bell said Wednesday.

He said local officials disliked him because he has been a civil rights proponent. Bell is licensed to teach industrial arts and to work as a counselor.

Carolyn Alexander, director of licensure for the state Department of Education, asked Bell why law officers found other items, such as scales and a crack pipe, in his home during the 1994 arrest.

Bell said he had the scales because he did industrial arts experiments at home. He didn’t respond to the question about a crack pipe.

Mississippi law says people who have criminal convictions or fail to disclose their criminal records on license applications may have their teaching licenses revoked. Since July 2000, school systems have been required to do background checks on those who apply for teaching positions, but there is no penalty for systems that fail to comply.

A decision could come by late July or early August in Bell’s case because commissioners asked for more documents. Decisions on three other cases heard Wednesday are expected within 15 days.