Trial ends with fine for defendant, unity plea for community

Published 12:51 am Thursday, November 16, 2017


NATCHEZ — A tumultuous trial stemming from a July 20 school board meeting that spiraled out of control ended with only a fine for the defendant and a plea for unity from the case’s judge.

The trial, relocated from Adams County Justice Court to Adams County County Court for space reasons, was between plaintiff, former Natchez Mayor and current Natchez-Adams School-District board member Phillip West and defendant Stewart Williams, who confronted West at the school board meeting.

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After hearing nearly three hours of testimony, Judge Patricia Dunmore returned a guilty verdict of simple assault by fear, imposing a $200 suspended fine as well as the costs of court. Dunmore dismissed a disturbing the peace charge brought against Williams.

Following all the turmoil the ordeal has caused, the judge said her sentence is an attempt to curtail any further division and bring the community together.

“My hope is that this brings peace to this issue,” Dunmore said. “That’s my point in this ruling today.

“I hope today ends this dispute, and we can get back to the business of educating our children.”

The proceedings began with all parties agreeing to drop the assault charge from a felony to a misdemeanor.

West first took the stand to testify. His attorney, Aisha Sanders, began to set up the prosecution’s case by attempting to demonstrate that Williams heavily contributed to the disruption of the meeting.

The evidence

Much of the trial revolved around a video of the incident in question, which is available for public view on

The video displayed in court began at the end of a presentation by Williams’ mother, Dana Wilson. Wilson was presenting a petition, which she said received approximately 3,400 signatures, opposing the school district’s plan to borrow $9 million to help fund construction of a new high school.

In the video, West begins to read from a prepared statement after Wilson concludes her presentation. West admonishes those opposing the $9-million loan, saying that in today’s age, he felt “sad that so many of our citizens do not want our children in public education to succeed.”

West goes on to say the people who signed the petition do not care about children in the public school because their own children are in parochial or private schools, also stating his belief that the opposition’s motivations were “based on the racial composition of the students depending on public education.”

At that point of West’s statement, Kevin Wilson, Dana Wilson’s husband and Williams’ stepfather, is heard interrupting West asking who the comments are directed toward, which West clarifies are aimed toward those opposing.

Soon after, the meeting devolves into a back-and-forth shouting match, and eventually, Williams is seen at his mother’s side at the podium.

After Dana Wilson asserts that she had the right to file a petition, West raises his voice and retorts, “You had the right to get one, and I have the right to tell you why you got it.”

At that moment, Williams approaches West and waves some rolled up papers in West’s face. Dana Wilson immediately rushes to get between the two men, but the back-and-forth exchange continues.

West then says he will raise his voice at anybody he desires, to which Williams responds “I’ll drag your ass outside.”

West comes back with, “You’ve got to be crazy. Go get educated.”

The arguments

Referring to the video, Sanders asked West if both Williams broke the meeting’s rules by first approaching the podium and then also approaching West. West replied that both Williams and Dana Wilson deviated from the protocol in this manner.

Sanders also made the case that the manner in which Williams confronted West was threatening in nature.

West also said he had never seen an official threatened in this matter in his more than 50 years involved in politics.

“I’ve never witnessed a person getting up from their seat and approaching a board member in a belligerent way … I was shocked,” West said.

West claimed he could have charged more individuals present at the meeting and even contemplated not filing any charges, but instead chose to make a point by charging Williams.

During cross examination, defense attorney John Colette attempted to make a case that West did nothing to deescalate the situation and asserted that West was escalating the tension.

But West responded, “normally the ones who start the fight escalate it.” West also said he had every right to defend himself once Williams approached him.

Later in the proceedings, Dana Wilson took the stand as the defense’s second witness.

As Colette questioned Wilson, she made the case that the meeting had become chaotic before Williams ever became involved, and that Williams was simply trying to protect his mother.

Some of the most tenuous moments came during this testimony, as Wilson and Sanders went back and forth multiple times throughout the questioning.

At one point, Sanders asked Wilson repeatedly why she felt the need to get in between Williams and West, to which Wilson replied that she was “protecting my son from any more confusion and drama that day.”

The ruling

Once Wilson stepped down from the witness stand and after each side gave brief closing statements, attorneys from both parties approached the bench, appearing fairly jovial.

After a few minutes, Dunmore proclaimed her ruling, stating that Williams would receive no jail time.

“I’m not going to be harsh on Mr. Williams, and (I don’t believe) Mr. West wants to be harsh on Mr. Williams,” Dunmore said.

Following the trial, Colette notified Williams and his family that West had actually wished to drop all the charges after the proceedings, but the court decided to proceed.

“I was willing to accept less,” West said of Williams’ punishment.

Outside of the courthouse, Williams said he did not owe an apology for his actions, but he did have regrets from the day of July 20.

“I’m glad all this is over,” he said. “I hate it happened, and maybe we can move forward toward and have a bigger and better community.”

Kevin Wilson, who at first was slated to be a witness for the defense but never took the stand, said he admired Dunmore for the “very fair” job she did with the case.

“I was impressed with her ruling, and we’re glad it’s over with,” Wilson said.

Williams also received a 6-month probation that prohibits him from causing a disturbance at meetings, though it does not prohibit him from attending any meetings.