Former NPD officer takes stand

Published 12:04 am Wednesday, July 27, 2011

NATCHEZ — Dewayne Johnson batted away accusations from the witness stand in federal court Tuesday that it was him — not defendant Natchez Police Officer Elvis Prater — who beat up a handcuffed Jason Ellard in the back of his patrol car.

Johnson, a former NPD officer who was never charged for beating Ellard, said Ellard got his injuries during the few minutes while Johnson walked away from his patrol car. Johnson said he left Ellard alone in the backseat while he went to retrieve his iPhone charger from his personal car and flirted with a woman he had arranged a meeting with who had parked in her car in the front of the station.

Testimony from seven other witnesses Tuesday mostly addressed where Ellard received his injuries and where Prater was during a few-minute span at approximately 3:45 a.m. on the night of the May 2009 crime in which prosecutors suggest Ellard was beat.

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Johnson admitted on cross-examination that he was rightfully convicted of stealing Ellard’s credit cards and recently pleaded guilty to conspiracy to use the cards.

Defense attorney George Lucas questioned how Johnson thought he could get away with allowing his cousin, Patricia Wilson, to use the stolen cards.

“Did you think you scared (Ellard) so much that he wouldn’t report it?” Lucas yelled to the stand and jury box.

“I did not beat (Ellard’s) head, sir,” Johnson responded calmly into the microphone. “I didn’t beat him.”

Johnson admitted to the prosecuting attorney that he decided to take a deal, which included a guilty plea in June for conspiracy to use Ellard’s credit cards, because he wanted to move on from the case.

Johnson, 33, said he had worked for NPD less than a year at the time of the incident and was fired in March of this year.

He said he lied to the FBI and in his grand jury testimony, saying Ellard received his injuries outside of Dimples nightclub, because he knew he would get in trouble for leaving Ellard unattended.

“I didn’t think (the case) would go this far,” Johnson said. “I thought it wasn’t going to go far because (the complaintants) were two white boys jumping on a police officer.”

Johnson also testified that he did not steal Ellard’s credit cards until he brought him to Natchez Regional Medical Center after the alleged beating. The statement contradicted Ellard’s testimony Monday and in a previous trial that Johnson stole his credit cards en route to NPD before the beating allegedly took place.

Johnson also said he never asked Ellard for his PIN, contradicting another part of Ellard’s story from Monday’s testimony.

Johnson said a cut lip was the only injury Ellard had when he helped him in his patrol car on Main Street following when Ellard fought with Prater and was Tased by Adams County Sheriff’s Office Deputy Greg Lee.

Johnson further explained why he wasn’t supervising Ellard at the station by describing the conversation with the woman, a white female from Hattiesburg whose name he never discovered.

Johnson said he met her while breaking up a potential motorcycle drag race on Liberty Road before dispatchers directed him to Dimples. Johnson said he wanted to speak to her in private because he is married.

Johnson testified after getting her phone number and having a short conversation, which he relayed to the court, he walked back to his patrol car inside the police-only gate and saw Prater getting out the back passenger side of his patrol car.

Johnson said he thought he would lose his job if he did not lie about where and when Ellard was injured, because Ellard was injured while in his custody.

Lucas pointed out Johnson, then, lied at least four times to the FBI or under oath that Ellard was hurt on Main Street.

Lucas questioned Prater on his character: “Are you a philanderer?” “Are you a thief?” “Are you a liar?”

Johnson responded, “No, I’m not,” to each question.

FBI Special Agent Claudia Arias said of the eight officers on patrol May 23, 2009, who she interviewed, only Prater and Johnson said Ellard was injured badly or bleeding on Main Street.

The prosecution questioned two jailers about the events of the early morning, showing each security video of the sally port entrance and inside the booking area.

Detention Officer Frederick Marvel testified Prater was sweating and seemed agitated when he arrived at NPD and placed Jason Ellard’s brother, James Daniel Ellard in a holding cell.

Marvel said Prater told him, “When I get hit I hit back,” before walking out the sally port door at approximately 3:45 a.m.

Prosecutors emphasized that Prater walked outside the sally port door instead using a more common inside hallway door to get to the office as part of their case to try to prove Prater was not writing his report in the office during the minutes when Ellard was allegedly beaten — like Prater told the FBI.

Another detention officer, Ricky Hinson, said he saw blood on Prater’s right hand an hour and a half after the alleged beating when Prater stood across the booking counter from Hinson.

Lee, the deputy who Tased the Ellard brothers when they resisted arrest, testified Monday he saw Prater writing his report at 4:53 a.m. at NPD, approximately an hour after the alleged attack occurred.

Under cross examination, Lee admitted to cooperating with the Mississippi Attorney General’s Office by trying to get Prater to confess while wearing a recording device.

Metro Narcotics Commander and former NPD shift supervisor David Lindsey also testified Tuesday about Ellard’s injuries.

Lindsey, who was the NPD night shift supervisor in May 2009, said he was surprised he had not heard about Ellard’s severe injuries before he saw him in the booking area.

Lindsey said if Ellard was injured severely on Main Street earlier, any officer on the scene would have had the discretion to get Ellard to the hospital or alert the paramedics on the scene.

American Medical Response paramedics Tracey Tait and Thomas Perry both testified they saw Jason Ellard on Main Street after he was Tased and did not notice any serious injuries at the time. Defense attorneys emphasized that the paramedics did not examine Ellard.

Both men, who rode in an ambulance together, said they saw what appeared to be the same man who was Tased at Natchez Regional later and were surprised by the severity of the injuries.

Tait said Ellard’s injuries at the hospital were a nine on a scale of one to 10 in severity of the injuries he has been called by police to check out in his seven years as a basic paramedic.

Judge David Bramlette told the jury Tuesday evening the case might be submitted to them today.

At the first trial, Prater was acquitted of the beating of Daniel Ellard. But the jury was unable to come to a verdict on six of the eight counts then.

Sentencing for Johnson on charges of stealing and conspiring to use Jason Ellard’s credit cards is scheduled for Sept. 12, at which time the court could possibly be asked to dismiss other charges.

Prater remains on unpaid administrative leave until remaining counts are retried.