Witnesses poke holes on Day 3

Published 12:43 am Friday, February 25, 2011

NATCHEZ — On day three of a federal trial of two Natchez police officers, witnesses for the prosecution poked holes in Elvis Prater’s alibi and connected Dewayne Johnson to credit card theft and fraud charges.

The jury heard testimonies Thursday from James Daniel Ellard, one of the allegedly beaten brothers, Adams County Sheriff’s Office reserve deputy Greg Lee, who helped Prater detain the brothers on Main Street, and Patricia Ann Wilson, Johnson’s cousin who testified about using a stolen credit card he gave her.

Wilson of Ferriday said Johnson called her that morning and told her to meet him in the Kmart parking lot because he had something for her.

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Wilson said Johnson got in her car when she arrived at the parking lot and gave her an American Express credit card. Wilson said she did not ask her cousin where he got the card.

“I knew it wasn’t his because he asked me to use it,” Wilson said.

Johnson told Wilson the American Express had a $3,000 limit, and he asked her to get him beer for a party he was having and told her to buy something for herself, Wilson said.

But after the conversation Wilson was instructed to follow Johnson to the Natchez Mall, where he asked her to give him back the card.

Wilson said they went to various stores and became separated. When they agreed, via cell phone, to meet back up in the middle of the mall, Johnson had shopping bags that contained shoeboxes.

Wilson said she did not witness Johnson buying any items, but he said to her, “I told you the card works,” when they met up in the mall.

Wilson said she then went to Walmart in Vidalia to use the card.

The jury watched security video footage from Walmart from just after 2 p.m. on May 23, 2009 — the same date of Jason Ellard’s arrest — that showed Wilson attempting to buy several items.

Wilson testified that she tried to purchase an air conditioner, an MP3 player and other items equaling $318.29 with a credit card that, Johnson, had given her earlier in the day and instructed her to use.

Video showed the card was swiped twice and declined both times, at which point Wilson appears to call Johnson, she said, and exit the store.

Wilson said when she called Johnson while exiting the store and told him the card was declined he told her to get rid of it.

Wilson testified that Johnson then called her several times throughout the day asking her to get rid of the card, so she threw it away at a convenience store near her house.

Wilson said when investigators from the FBI contacted her to meet them for an interview; she went to Johnson’s house first. Johnson told her to leave out his name and tell investigators she found the card on Main Street when she was exercising with her children.

“I said come on Dewayne, that’s not going to work,” Wilson said.

Using tissue to dab her eyes, Wilson said Johnson then suggested to say she found it at the Cash Cow, where she had visited running errands earlier that morning.

Wilson testified that she did not tell the FBI the whole truth early on in the investigation, excluding the incident at the Natchez Mall, because she was protecting her cousin, and because he told her to leave his name out of it.

“How difficult is it to testify today?” U.S. Attorney Kevonne Small asked Wilson.

“Oh, it’s real hard,” Wilson, said.

Small asked Wilson if she asked Johnson about the beatings she read about in the newspaper.

Wilson said she did ask Johnson and he changed the subject to a conversation about avoiding use of his name.

Johnson’s attorney Dennis Sweet cross-examined Wilson about her previous statements to the FBI and prior criminal charges.

Sweet pointed out to Wilson where she signed statements that varied from the testimony she gave Thursday and suggested she had lied.

Wilson said she did not lie, but that she left out parts of her story.

“You didn’t tell the whole truth,” Sweet said.

“Yes, because I was scared. But reality set in, the trial is about it start. I never (before) told the whole truth,” Wilson said, as she became visibly upset.

Wilson confirmed she pleaded guilty to theft charges of items more than $500 in July 2000 when questioned by Sweet.

Sweet asked Wilson if it was correct that she tried to contact Johnson through his wife in a Facebook message, even though she was not supposed to talk to Johnson as a part of her plea agreement.

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

Sweet produced evidence on paper of a Facebook message exchange between in which Wilson was asking for money.

“I always borrowed money from them,” Wilson said.

Sweet also pointed out to Wilson that she never used the card to buy beer, like she testified Johnson asked her to do.

Wilson said that was correct, and that she only tried to use the card on herself, her husband and her kids.

James Daniel Ellard, who goes by Daniel, testified about the events that happened on Main Street the minutes after when he was arrested May 23, 2009.

Both defense and prosecuting attorneys asked Daniel to confirm that he was very drunk when he met with Prater, which he confirmed.

Daniel said he was not involved in the original fight at Dimples Lounge. He said walked outside the bar and headed left toward Pearl Street to wait for a ride while the people from the bar flooded into the street after pepper spray was sprayed.

Daniel said Prater walked up to him and told him to leave. He said he moved down the street more, but waited on the sidewalk for Jason.

He said Prater walked up to him again, closer to Pearl Street, and yelled at him rudely to leave again. They started arguing because Daniel wanted to wait for Jason.

Daniel said at some point he punched Prater, and they began fighting when Prater told Daniel he was placing him under arrest.

Daniel said Jason became involved when Jason grabbed Prater to let him know he was there and not to arrest Daniel.

Daniel said all three were fighting when they fell down.

On cross-examination, Daniel was asked if he was on the top or bottom of the pile when he, Prater and Jason fell down. Daniel said he was on the bottom.

Jason and Lee both said in testimony that Jason was on the bottom when they fell.

Daniel said he was pepper-sprayed and Tased twice when he stopped fighting.

Daniel said he does not remember which or how many officers brought him to a police car or whose police car it was.

Daniel said he thought the officer driving the police car was taking him to the station.

“(The driver) was accelerating real sharp, slamming (him) side to side,” Daniel said.

He said the car stopped at a location he thought was the police station, then someone opened the door and said, “Resist me, mother ——,” and started punching him in the face.

Daniel said he could not see because of the pepper spray in his eyes, but he recognized the voice to be Prater’s. Daniel said he was placed in a holding cell without having his pockets searched.

Medical records Small presented to Daniel said he had bruising and tenderness on his face due to “a direct blow.”

Prater’s attorney George Lucas asked Daniel on a cross examination about conversations he had with his wife from the Natchez City Jail during the four days he spent there.

“It is true that you discussed (with your wife) if you raised enough stink your charges would be dismissed,” Lucas asked.

When the prosecution objected to Lucas’ question, Lucas told the judge his question was based on recorded conversations from the jail.

Daniel said he and his wife had a conversation on those grounds saying that, “people needed to know what happened to me in the police car.”

Daniel confirmed that he and his wife discussed contacting people their family knew to get an investigation started.

Daniel also confirmed, upon questioning, he had pleaded to two misdemeanors instead of a felony charge for hitting an officer.

Lucas asked Daniel if he has been sentenced yet for the guilty plea, to which Daniel said, “No, sir.”

Greg Lee, who was a full-time sheriff’s deputy at the time of the incident, testified for prosecution that he went to the scene on Main Street when he was on duty May 23, 2009, because he passed by and thought the police officers might need assistance.

Lee said he ran to Prater when he heard Prater call for help. Prater was fighting with a man with a shirt on in front of him by exchanging punches and being choked by a shirtless man from behind, Lee said.

Lee said by the time he was five feet away, all three men fell, “like a sandwich.” The man with the shirt was on the bottom lying on his back and the shirtless man was on top with Prater in the middle facing the man with the shirt.

Lee identified the shirtless man as Daniel when he was shown Daniel’s photo.

Daniel also testified that his shirt was ripped of in the course of the fight.

Lee said since a civilian pulled Daniel off of Prater, he Tased Jason, who was beneath Prater on the ground, to detain him because Jason was still punching Prater.

Lee said he did not see Jason again after he Tased him, but that he did not see any injuries on his head or face.

“Did you see him bleeding,” Small asked.

“No ma’am,” Lee said.

Small presented a picture of Daniel taken at Natchez Regional Medical Center later that morning.

“Did he look like this after you Tased him?”

“No, not at all,” Lee said.

Lee then Tased Daniel twice after Daniel tried to take his Taser from him and was not detained after one Tasing.

Lee said he helped Prater put Daniel into a police car.

Lee said he continued helping control the crowd when a dispatcher told him to call then NPD shift coordinator David Lindsey. Lindsey told Lee one of arrestees who fell down after being Tased by Lee was being transported to University of Mississippi Medical Center in Jackson because of injuries.

Lee said he told Lindsey, “I didn’t see any injuries when I placed him in the car, there is no way.”

Small pointed out to the court that Lee was confused after his conversation with Lindsey about which brother was hospitalized.

Lee thought the man without a shirt — Daniel — was the one who was hospitalized because he was the only one who fell after Lee Tased him, the attorney said. Because of the confusion, he mixed up the names on his original report.

Lee said he had to make a report with the sheriff’s office as required by procedure because he used force, so he went to the Natchez Police Department to get the Ellards’ names and dates of birth for his report.

He said he was detained by a traffic stop and crowd control, however, and did not go to the NPD until 4:47 a.m., which his police log confirms.

Lee said he was at the station until 5:10 a.m., for approximately 20 minutes. He said he saw Prater at the station at that time.

“What was officer Prater doing?” Small asked.

“Prater was doing a report,” Lee said.

Lucas suggested Wednesday when interviewing Marvel that Prater could have been writing his report in the conference room in the 10 minutes between when Daniel and Jason were brought to the booking area.

David Shepherd Crawford, a lawyer and part-time city judge in Woodville and Centreville, also testified that he visited Daniel in the city jail after his arrest at the request of Daniel’s family and that he seemed scared and had scratches on his body, “like he had been in a scuffle.”

Ron Crew, an instructor at Mississippi Law Enforcement Training Academy, also testified that he taught Prater and Johnson in 2007 and 2008 a class called “Use of force,” where they learned not to use unnecessary force and to intercede with other officers if it is being used.

Prater’s attorney Abby Brumley asked Crew if he taught methods for controlling one’s temper to prevent unnecessary force, to which Crew confirmed.

“Would removing (oneself) from a situation help?”

Crew confirmed that removing oneself from a situation is a method of controlling ones’ temper.

Day three of the trial against two federally indicted officers ran from 9 a.m. to 4:50 p.m. Thursday in the U.S. Southern Mississippi District courthouse on Pearl Street.

Natchez Police Officer Elvis Prater was indicted Aug. 20 on two counts of civil rights violations relating to the alleged beating of brothers Jason and James Daniel Ellard after the brothers were arrested for fighting May 24, 2009, outside of a bar. Prater was also charged with making false statements to FBI agents.

Officer Dewayne Johnson was indicted Aug. 20 for civil rights violations for witnessing the alleged brutality and failing to protect people in custody. Johnson was also indicted on one count of credit card theft and one count of conspiracy to use it.

Federal Judge David Bramlette told the jury the trial could possibly last until as late as Monday, excluding the weekend.