Former officer sentenced to two years

Published 12:24 am Wednesday, September 14, 2011

NATCHEZ — Former Natchez Police Officer Dewayne Johnson will serve two and a half years in a federal prison for stealing Jason Ellard’s credit cards while on duty and then conspiring to use them in May 2009.

Federal Judge David Bramlette handed down the sentence to Johnson, who stood in front of him, and directed Johnson to report to his assigned prison by noon Oct. 24.

“It’s a very unfortunate day for the defendant and the victim, the City of Natchez and its police force,” Bramlette said.

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Bramlette said he based his sentence, after much thought and research, on federal sentencing guidelines and with respect to a other factors, mainly the oath Johnson took as a police officer.

“(Law enforcement officers) are held to a higher moral (and) ethical standard,” Bramlette said. “When (an oath) is breached, an officer must be held accountable.”

Bramlette also made a point to say he did not believe — like defense attorneys for his former co-defendant NPD Officer Elvis Prater alleged during Prater’s recent trial — that Johnson was responsible for the beating of Ellard, which lawyers for both sides said occurred in the back of Johnson’s police car on the same night Johnson stole his credit cards.

Bramlette said he would have considered Johnson’s responsibility for the beating if he thought Johnson was responsible for it.

“I do not believe this man assaulted Mr. Ellard,” Bramlette said, referring to Johnson.

The sentence included 12 months in prison for credit card theft and 30 months for conspiracy to use the credit cards, to run concurrently.

Johnson will be placed on post-release supervision for two years — one year for the theft charge and two years for the conspiracy, which will run concurrently.

In addition, Johnson was ordered to pay restitution of $272.85 to Hibbett Sports and $52.82 to Exxon Mobile, both of Natchez, as well as a $125 in fines.

Bramlette gave Johnson the opportunity to report to prison on his free will when the lawyers began discussing a bond.

“Mr. Johnson’s not going anywhere,” Bramlette said to prosecutors.

Bramlette said Johnson showed no apparent prior criminal history that would increase his sentence nor did he show poor character prior to the theft and conspiracy, as witnessed by testimonies Tuesday from Johnson’s sister, wife and father-in-law.

“Sometimes good people do bad things,” Bramlette said.

Before Johnson was sentenced, U.S. prosecutor Fara Gold also requested Johnson’s sentence be reduced for his cooperation in testifying against Officer Elvis Prater at a trial in May for beating Ellard.

Bramlette said he took Johnson’s testimony into account when making his sentence.

“(Johnson) did take the stand and was subjected to ostracism by his family and community,” Bramlette said. “But (Johnson) did have reticence to be completely forthcoming.”

Bramlette said Johnson failed to provide clear details of the events that occurred on May 24, 2009.

Prater was acquitted of the charges in May and has been reinstated as an NPD officer.

Approximately eight family members and supporters of Johnson sat behind him during his sentencing. Ellard, who also attended the sentencing, sat on the other side of the courtroom.

Bramlette also sentenced Johnson’s cousin, Patricia Wilson, Tuesday.

Wilson testified against Johnson at a February trial in which he was convicted for theft charges.

Wilson pleaded guilty before testifying to using Ellard’s credit cards when Johnson gave them to her the day after Ellard’s arrest.

Bramlette sentenced Wilson to two years of supervised probation.

“I don’t very often give probation,” Bramlette said.

Bramlette said he gave Wilson probation because of her cooperation with U.S. prosecutors. Cooperation with the government, Bramlette said, is an essential part of the justice system.

Bramlette said Wilson became ostracized from her family and support system as the result of her honesty with prosecutors.

No family or friends attended Wilson’s sentencing.