Jackson attorney Dennis Sweet and Jackson business owner Charlotte Reeves are striking back against what they described as Jackson Mayor Frank Melton's attempt to sway public opinion in civil lawsuits filed against him and the city. Melton made hard allegations against plaintiffs who are suing him and the city for civil rights violations last week.
"I'm not trying to taint the jury," Melton insisted. "These are things that I want to come up in a civil trial. We have a lot more latitude in civil court, and these are not allegations. These are facts, and I'm prepared to go forward."
Melton dished out allegations against Jackson resident Albert "Batman" Donelson, who was acquitted of murder by a Hinds County jury after Melton, then director of the Mississippi Bureau of Narcotics, investigated Donelson.
Donelson's mother, Tara Donelson, is suing Melton for trespassing and threatening her family after Melton, armed with a shotgun and backed by Jackson police and media, taunted Donelson's family on her front porch in April 2006, claiming he had heard family members issue threats against the mayor.
"It is my opinion, based on fact, that Donelson has been a major distributor of narcotics in the city of Jackson for a number of years. He is responsible for the homicide of six people," Melton said.
Sweet said Albert Donelson has nothing to do with his case.
"Everybody keeps letting Melton define the story, but it has nothing to do with Batman. You've got four kids, their mother, a grandmother, a 70-something-year-old man, and Frank's beating on the door, telling people to come out. That's who I represent. It hasn't got anything to do with Batman," Sweet said.
Melton tossed his allegations—many disproved in court—at a press conference after The Clarion-Ledger published a letter from Phelps Dunbar law firm saying it would likely be unable to successfully defend Melton in the Donelson lawsuit and in a second lawsuit regarding Melton's demolition of a home on Ridgeway Street in 2006. Property owner Jennifer Sutton is suing Melton and the city over that incident for repairs—plus lost rent revenues—or for the price of the home. With plaintiffs suing Melton individually in the Sutton case, an attorney representing the city's interest may ultimately turn on Melton and sue him to recover damages if plaintiffs convince a jury that the mayor was acting outside the scope of his duties as mayor. The resulting conflict of interest forces Phelps Dunbar to recommend alternative counsel for Melton.
Sweet, who is representing both Sutton and Tara Donelson, said he and Sutton "were willing to settle with the city since the beginning," but insists he has not received a legitimate letter of interest from the city.
Melton's personal attorney Dale Danks told The Clarion-Ledger this month that he has tried to settle the Sutton suit.
"… I called (Sweet) on a Saturday, and the mayor had authorized me to make an offer to pay the $38,000 to Mr. Sweet's client, Mrs. Sutton," Danks told that paper. "I want to say (Sweet) was up in Starkville at a ballgame with one of his sons. He told me he would get back with me the next day, and he never did."
Sweet said the $38,000 is the result of a damage assessment and is not necessarily the entirety of the claim. More importantly, Sweet was furious at Danks' attempt to settle the Sutton case clandestinely.
"(Clarion-Ledger reporter) Arnold Lindsey came up in here talking about some $38,000, saying Dale Danks couldn't catch up with me. That makes me sound irresponsible. I told him I'm not Amos and f*cking-Andy."
Sweet said protocols are in place for settling lawsuits, and nobody representing the city or Melton has followed them, yet.
"Can I be allowed, even though I'm black, to run my business professionally, or do I have to be out here with all this n*gger-sh*t where he can call me on the phone to send me some money? If I were Butler Snow, you wouldn't be saying that. No one would be saying that. You think because I'm some black lawyer over here in practice, you can call me up on the downlow?"
Pieter Teeuwissen, assistant to the city attorney, said the city has attempted to offer a settlement in writing.
"The city has sent correspondence to Dennis Sweet in an amicable manner soliciting a settlement demand and extending overtures to try and resolve this case. It was legit," Teeuwissen said, adding that he was unable to account on the record for Sweet's claim. The Jackson Free Press has requested this letter, but not received it, yet.
Melton also used his press conference to target pallet-recycling company A-1 Pallet, on 1000 N. Mill St.
"It is infested with rats and rodents, and the facility is just across the street from where a dozen kids live … and it has been reported to me that the facility is used to fence stolen goods," Melton said.
Owners Monte and Charlotte Reeves claim the city is singling their company out for persecution and filed a restraining order against the city in Hinds County Chancery Court in August to protect the business from demolition. Melton admitted that the only thing keeping the city from demolishing the mill is the restraining order.
"If he has some kind of proof of us fencing stolen things, he needs to come forward with it," Charlotte Reeves told the JFP. "I'm just furious that he can continue to say these things and get away with it."