Natchez police officer’s trial pushed back

Published 12:05 am Saturday, January 18, 2014

VIDALIA — The Natchez police officer indicted on a charge of accessory after the fact to murder showed up to the Concordia Parish courthouse Wednesday thinking he would be facing trial, but an apparent miscommunication in the system delayed his day in court.

Prosecutors say Officer Vince Bates — who is charged with accessory after the fact and reckless operation of a motor vehicle — interfered with the arrest of his son Vincent Dotson, who is alleged to have fatally shot Derec “Beedy” Dobbins, 24, in Vidalia in August.

Bates contends he was helping the Vidalia police find his son, and in previous court filings has said evidence he spoke with the Vidalia police and several family members by phone in an effort locate Dotson was not presented to the grand jury.

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Bates also claims he was escorting Dotson to be arrested by following the vehicle in which Dotson was riding. Bates is accused of following a parish deputy sheriff too closely after the deputy moved in to pull over the Dotson’s vehicle, a charge Bates denies.

He was not arrested the night of Dotson’s arrest. A SWAT team arrested Bates at his home following the indictment.

The accessory charge is a felony, while the reckless operation charge is a misdemeanor.

Bates has asked for a speedy trial, and his attorney, Ronnie McMillin, said he was granted one for Jan. 15 for the misdemeanor count following a Dec. 11 hearing.

A trial of motions — in which the parameters of the trial will be argued — for the felony count was also set for Wednesday, and when the defendant arrived in court, the misdemeanor trial was not on the docket, while the felony trial of motions was.

“We showed up to the trial Wednesday with Vidalia Police Chief Arthur Lewis, two Vidalia police officers — nine witnesses total — and I noticed it wasn’t on the docket,” McMillin said.

District Attorney Brad Burget said the confusion may have resulted because he was not present at the December hearing — he was preparing for a triple-murder trial in Catahoula Parish — and had relied on the official minutes of the court to set the schedule. The minutes did not reflect a trial date set for Wednesday.

“Maybe the minutes were wrong, I do not know what was said in the courtroom — I am not pointing the finger,” Burget said. “According to the minutes, it was not set for trial.”

Because the district attorney’s office had not come prepared for the trial and had not answered the defense’s request for discovery, the court set a date of Jan. 29 for when the prosecution has to respond to defense motions and provide discovery.

Burget said he believes the trial date will be set at that time.

McMillin said he and his client want the case to move forward as quickly as possible, and since the motion for the speedy trial was granted in December, the 60-day window in which it can take place is quickly drawing to a close.

“I have an innocent client who has been suspended from his job without pay since before Thanksgiving, so we are anxious to go to court,” McMillin said. “He wants the opportunity for the evidence to be put forward publicly. He had hoped to go on to trial this past Wednesday. We are going to move as aggressively as we can so he can get his right to a speedy and public trial.”

McMillin said once the misdemeanor trial is over he will push for a quick conclusion to the felony matter, which was also granted a speedy trial in December. A speedy trial for felony matters must be conducted within 180 days of when it is granted.

McMillin said he has requested a transcript of the December court hearing to clarify if the misdemeanor trial was set for Wednesday.

Burget said he does not intend to try Bates before Dotson’s case is concluded.

“(Dotson’s) is the most important of the two cases,” he said.

“I don’t want to lose focus on something that is secondary over what is more important; therefore, my focus is on the murder case. My main focus is on the person losing their life and the prosecution of that crime.”

But McMillin said he believes his client is innocent and he will press all the harder for a trial to happen sooner rather than later.

“How often do you see a defendant rushing to trial? Usually it’s delay, delay, delay,” he said. “Officer Bates wants to get to court and prove his innocence.”

Evidence McMillin has asked the prosecution to provide for the case includes videos and police radio logs.