Officers indicted on federal charges

Published 12:19 am Saturday, August 21, 2010

NATCHEZ — An internal investigation into an incident that led to the Thursday arrest of two Natchez police officers was never completed, Police Chief Mike Mullins said Friday.

Though Mullins said in May 2009 that such an investigation was ongoing, he said Friday that the prime complainant never contacted the Natchez Police Department or responded to inquires from NPD investigators.

Sealed federal indictments charging officers Elvis Prater, 35, and Dewayne Johnson, 32, were opened Friday. The two officers were arrested at the Natchez Police Department Thursday morning.

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They appeared in the U.S. District Court Southern District in Jackson Friday morning, and were released on their own recognizance.

Both men face two counts of civil rights violations for the alleged May 2009 beating of two men they had reportedly arrested.

Prater faces one count of making false statements to federal investigators; Johnson faces two counts of the same charge.

Johnson also faces one count of conspiracy that alleges he stole credit and debit cards from the arrested man, obtained the PIN for the cards from the victim and called a relative to meet him at a store. Johnson reportedly told Patrica Wilson to use one of the cards to make purchases, including beer for a party he was planning.

Mullins said Friday he had no information of previous wrongdoings committed by two police officers.

The officers have now been placed on administrative leave with pay.

Click here for a pdf of The indictments against the two NPD officers
Patricia Wilson’s indictmentJason Ellard’s lawsuit against the City of NatchezPatricia Wilson’s indictmentCity’s attempt to stay lawsuitEllard’s response to stay request

“Until we were served these indictments, we didn’t even have a complaint on these two officers,” Mullins said. “Both officers have worked here for several years, and I have not received a complaint on these officers since they’ve worked here.”

Prater was on duty at the time of his arrest. Johnson was off-duty. Mullins said there was no reason to place the officers on administrative leave before their arrest.

Coverage of the May 2009 brutality allegationsPolice chief calls in outside agency for investigation

“Under civil service rules, I cannot discipline an officer without cause,” Mullins said.

Mullins said Friday, the state attorney general’s office and the FBI launched an investigation, but an internal investigation was never completed because Jason Ellard, the man who was allegedly beaten and had his credit cards stolen, refused to talk to Natchez investigators.

“We attempted to get information from the subjects arrested, but the subject would not give any information, nor did they make a complaint with the department,” Mullins said.

“From what I understand, they filed a complaint with the state attorney general’s office within days of the arrest.”

Mullins declined to release copies of the officers’ reports from the night in question, citing matters of personnel. Crime reports are public record, according to Mississippi’s Freedom of Information Act. Mullins also refused to release photos of the officers.

If convicted, Prater faces a maximum punishment of 10 years in prison for the civil rights offenses and five years in prison for the false statements offense.

Johnson, if convicted, faces a maximum punishment of 10 years in prison for the civil rights offenses and five years in prison for the conspiracy and false statements offenses.

The civil rights charges against Johnson were filed because he “failed to prevent another police officer in his presence from unlawfully assaulting” the two men they had arrested.

A court date for Prater and Johnson has been set for 9:30 a.m. Oct. 4 at the federal courthouse in Natchez.

Before joining the Natchez Police Department in October 2007, Prater was a jailer for the Adams County Sheriff’s Office from 1999 to 2006, when he was hired as a deputy, according to Sheriff Chuck Mayfield, who checked office records Friday. Prater resigned from the ACSO in August 2007.

A lawsuit was filed against Prater and the late former Sheriff Ronny Brown in April 2004 for violating a prisoner’s civil rights. The case was later dismissed due to lack of jurisdiction.

Records on file with the U.S. District Court Southern District of Mississippi show that an Elvis Prater living at the address NPD has on file for Officer Prater filed for Chapter 13 bankruptcy in October 2003.

Wilson, 34, of Woodville pleaded guilty in July to conspiring with Johnson to commit identity theft, credit card fraud and bank fraud.

During her plea, Wilson acknowledged that on May 23, 2009, Johnson arranged a meeting and gave her a credit card, which she believed he had stolen.

Johnson also informed Wilson that the credit card had a $3,000 credit limit, and told Wilson she could also use the stolen credit card to buy something for herself.

Wilson took the credit card to a retail store in Vidalia, where she attempted to make a purchase, but the credit card, which had been reported as stolen, was declined. The charges to which Wilson pleaded guilty also allege that the police officer made or caused to be made several other charges with the stolen credit and debit cards at retail stores, restaurants and a gas station in Natchez and Vidalia.

Wilson faces a maximum penalty of up to five years in prison. Her sentencing date has not yet been scheduled.

The case is being investigated by the Jackson Field Office of the FBI and the Mississippi State Office of the Attorney General.

The case is being prosecuted by trial attorney Erin Aslan of the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division and Assistant U.S. Attorney Glenda Haynes of the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Southern District of Mississippi.

Eileen Maher of Natchez is the attorney listed on a U.S. District Court document for Johnson.

Mayor Jake Middleton said he, Mullins and the Natchez Board of Aldermen will likely discuss the lawsuit during an executive session prior to the aldermen’s regular meeting Tuesday.

“Everybody’s innocent until proven guilty, but I hate to see a bad mark on our police department. It’s just a bad mark on law enforcement,” Middleton said.