Supreme Court Overturns ‘Crack House' Gag | Jackson Free Press | Jackson, MS

Supreme Court Overturns ‘Crack House' Gag

In a decision today, the Mississippi Supreme Court overturned an injunction issued by Circuit Judge Tomie Green last fall that forbid city officials from referring to the duplex in the Ridgeway incident as a crack or drug house.

The decision, which was signed by Justice George C. Carlson Jr, means that city officials are again free to refer to the Ridgeway duplex as a drug distribution center. The decision ran to only two pages and did not explain the court's reasons for overturning the injunction.

On Sept. 15, Mayor Frank Melton was indicted, along with Jackson Police Department detectives Michael Recio and Marcus Wright, for demolishing a duplex at 1305 Ridgeway St. on Aug. 26. Several members of city government, especially Councilmen Kenneth Stokes and Frank Bluntson, argued that Melton's actions were justified because the duplex was a "crack house."

Evans Welch, who was living in the duplex and was arrested that night, was charged with possessing paraphernalia and for resisting arrest. Melton and police found no drugs in the duplex despite allegedly smashing in the walls, and though Welch has a lengthy arrest record for mostly petty offenses, he has never been charged with possession with intent to distribute.

Jennifer Sutton, who owns the duplex and has filed a civil suit in the matter, filed a Sept. 27 motion through her attorney Dennis Sweet requesting an injunction that would forbid city officials to make further assertions that the duplex was a drug distribution center. In the motion, Sweet claimed that no one from the police department or the city had ever advised Sutton that the duplex she owned was a "crack house." Sweet argued that "there has been not a scintilla of evidence to support these allegations, and without such, fundamental justice and fairness requires that these Defendants be enjoined from publicly referring to the Plaintiff's property as a 'drug house.'"

On Oct. 16, Green granted that motion.

On Oct. 27, Special Assistant to the City Attorney Pieter Teeuwissen filed a motion asking Judge Green to reconsider her decision. Teeuwissen argued that city officials have a First Amendment right to refer to the duplex however they choose, and that Green's decision amounted to prior restraint of speech. If such references are defamatory, Sutton has the right to file a civil suit, Teeuwissen argued. Teeuwissen also contended that Green's injunction was vague, both about the duration of the injunction and about what terms would constitute a violation.

Melton, Wright and Recio will face felony charges in court on April 23.

Previous Comments

ID
125312
Comment

Well, I said earlier this would be a battle of epic proportion. Just watch how Mr. Washington's Dream Team II capitalizes on this for Melton's defense. Robert Smith, too.

Author
Ray Carter
Date
2007-02-08T18:23:41-06:00
ID
125313
Comment

*sigh* Sympathy Surgery and a Favor from the MS Supremes. I'm putting money on Frank walking away from those charges April 23rd, 10am.

Author
Ironghost
Date
2007-02-08T19:18:02-06:00
ID
125314
Comment

Ray, I see no delight in a guilty man getting off because his lawyer is really good. Melton could have Elmer Fudd as his council because the fix was in when Judge Green stepped down. All this other stuff is window dressing. Melton has allies all the way up to the Governor. Haley's silence on our Capital City mayor speaks loudly. All of Haley's local big money men backed Melton. None of them are going to get egg on their face over Melton tearing up a crackhouse while sauced. How many ex-FBI guys are his "friend?" It's a joke. It's a fact some of Melton's supporters are benefiting from his election in back-room ways that will never be fully revealed. I'm sure our overly righteous Justices had a moment of clarity once the power players made their decision on whether Melton should sink or swim. The puppet strings run long and high no matter how twisted they are getting. The big question is what is their end game? Freespeech my booty! How about the right of the landowner to not be slandered in the press or by the accused? She didn't advertise the house for rent as a "potental crack house." Nor should the actions of one's tenent reflect negativily against the landlord, unless it can be shown that they too knowingly intended for illegal activies to occur. She will forever be known as the lady "who rented that crackhouse." She'll proabably get to sue the City and Melton now for damages, and hopefully win.

Author
pikersam
Date
2007-02-08T19:38:47-06:00
ID
125315
Comment

I doubt it was a favor; even in Mississippi, the Supreme Court tries to at least pretend that it's dealing with technical issues of law. My suspicion is that there was some sort of jurisdictional concern about the circumstances under which Judge Green can regulate what a public official says, but I'd have to read the thing to be sure. And by April, he's going to be fine. The media is already pulling its punches a lot less than I thought it would, and if they're not pulling their punches in the immediate aftermath of his surgery, I doubt they will two and a half months later. Cheers, TH

Author
Tom Head
Date
2007-02-08T19:41:03-06:00
ID
125316
Comment

Pike writes: How about the right of the landowner to not be slandered in the press or by the accused? Just to be clear, slander is not a criminal charge and the government does not have the authority to prevent it by prior restraint in ordinary circumstances. The question under consideration is the degree to which city officials can make potentially actionable statements while on duty. Cheers, TH

Author
Tom Head
Date
2007-02-08T19:44:20-06:00
ID
125317
Comment

Ok... thanks.... I still think the landlord is getting a raw deal in all this.

Author
pikersam
Date
2007-02-08T20:22:34-06:00
ID
125318
Comment

Agreed, but that doesn't necessarily mean that the Supreme Court was wrong or that it was acting unjustly. Sometimes people get a raw deal just because that's the way the law has to work. Cheers, TH

Author
Tom Head
Date
2007-02-08T21:54:22-06:00
ID
125319
Comment

Remember, someone has to get screwed over for justice to work. Usually those who can't afford justice.

Author
Ironghost
Date
2007-02-08T22:05:23-06:00
ID
125320
Comment

Usually, it's true, but in this case I think the principles involved might actually be sound. As wrong as it is for public officials to refer to the home as a "crack house," and as good as the defamation case might be, we can't afford to treat slander and libel as criminal offenses. That never ends well. Cheers, TH

Author
Tom Head
Date
2007-02-08T22:18:34-06:00
ID
125321
Comment

Tom, there's a problem. Unless I miss my guess, the occupant was never charged with anything like drug possession. Logically, it isn't a "Crack House", unless you find some actual drugs in it. I would also believe the definition of "Crack House" to include some major traffic also, as people come by to buy some. Let's face it: Melton won this round, and will taint the public perception just before trial to get off better. There is no justice.

Author
Ironghost
Date
2007-02-08T22:47:38-06:00
ID
125322
Comment

I agree with Tom. As much as I can understand the intention of the judge's ruling—the keep a ruthless lot from trying to poison a jury pool—it was always on flimsy ground because it was prior restraint, essentially. Now, Melton supporters had better think carefully, however, before they jump on this as the right to make statements they can't prove. Such an assumption may prove costly after the fact. It is unfortunate that we have city officials so ready to make unfactual statements without regard to who they they hurt that they would be *celebrating* the right to lie without a basis. But the First Amendment is there for such instances of, say, the Klan marching in Skokie, Ill. On the other hand, they'd better be able to back up their statements. That part will be interesting to observe. Jennifer Sutton is likely to get the last word here. What's remarkable to me is that a city that can't find its a$$ in the dark when it comes to public records and accountability managed to turn around a press release about this decision—declaring essentially that the judge can't keep them from lying before they lie—within minutes, it seems. Have they no shame? What a bunch. Here's the release: FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE Date: February 8, 2007 Contact: Sarah O’Reilly-Evans, City Attorney 601-960-1799 MISSISSIPPI SUPREME COURT ORDER Today the Mississippi Supreme Court issued its Order dissolving the preliminary injunction previously issued by Hinds County Circuit Court Judge Tomie T. Green on October 16, 2006. Judge Green had issued a ruling that prohibited the Mayor, Elected Officials and employees from referring to the duplex located on Ridgeway Street as a “crack house” dope house or place of criminal activity. The City of Jackson challenged the Circuit Court ruling¬¬¬ contending that the ruling unfairly infringed on the First Amendment Freedom of Speech Rights of City officials and employees. Today’s ruling affirms the importance of Freedom of Speech. The City of Jackson feels vindicated by this ruling. It is important for Elected Officials and employees to be able to speak freely about issues that affect the citizens of Jackson. City Attorney Sarah O’Reilly-Evans is now weighing the City’s options in pursuing recovery of taxpayers funds spent on attorney fees and expenses in this litigation. ###

Author
DonnaLadd
Date
2007-02-08T23:27:14-06:00
ID
125323
Comment

I would also believe the definition of "Crack House" to include some major traffic also, as people come by to buy some. ironghost Crack house In the United States during the 1980s crack house was a term used describe an old, often abandoned or burnt-out building often in a inner-city neighborhood where drug dealers and drug users bought, sold, and used illegal drugs, including, but not limited to, crack cocaine. The strongest economy in some neighborhoods became the illegal drug trade, much to the chagrin of the few remaining local churches and community organizations. Abandoned buildings ravaged by arson or neglect formed perfect outposts for drug dealers since they were free, obscure, secluded and there would be no paper trail in the form of rent receipts. I'm not sold that this duplex qualifies as a "crack house" as defined. The Meltonites can run around calling it a crack house all day. Whatever froths their milk.

Author
pikersam
Date
2007-02-08T23:37:08-06:00
ID
125324
Comment

Well, I think they are engaging in hate speak the way they want to use it. It is discriminating to label the house a "crack house" as if for some reason that justifies Melton's destruction of that house even though what he did was illegal - especailly since the house was drug free at the time. It also immediately turns Evan Welch from a "person who suffers from a mental disorder" to a "crack head." Who else would be living in a "crack house" but a "crack head?"

Author
pikersam
Date
2007-02-08T23:48:47-06:00
ID
125325
Comment

And can we get one thing settled once and for all? It is not a "crack house!" It is a "crack duplex!!!" Let's be technical here. ;-)

Author
pikersam
Date
2007-02-08T23:59:42-06:00
ID
125326
Comment

IG writes: Tom, there's a problem. Unless I miss my guess, the occupant was never charged with anything like drug possession. Logically, it isn't a "Crack House", unless you find some actual drugs in it. Of course it isn't, but that's not the point. The question the Supreme Court was looking at was not whether the house was a crack house, but whether city officials could be legally restrained from saying that it was, whether it was or not. When the Milwaukee police spokesman said "BTK is captured," he hadn't actually charged Dennis Rader with any crimes and therefore hadn't formally established the truth of his claim. He was allowed to use his judgment, which in that case was sound and well-founded. Public officials can also use their judgment in this case, even if it's not sound and well-founded. The only constitutional remedies available to the victims of slander, provided that slander can be proven in court, are civil. That's the way the law addresses slander and libel--as grounds for civil relief, not prior restraint. Pike writes: Well, I think they are engaging in hate speak the way they want to use it. Probably, but hate speech is also legal. Cheers, TH

Author
Tom Head
Date
2007-02-09T00:04:46-06:00
ID
125327
Comment

Probably, but hate speech is also legal. Tom Did I say it wasn't?

Author
pikersam
Date
2007-02-09T01:36:42-06:00
ID
125328
Comment

Here is WJTV's story! Journalism 101 would be to good for them! A Jackson woman who sued the city for giving her house a bad name loses her court fight. It's the same house at the center of a court battle involving Jackson Mayor Frank Melton. Last August, city crews destroyed the property in Jackson during a campaign to get rid of abandoned homes. When the Mayor was criticized for damaging this home that someone was living in, he called it a crack house. emphasis mine Say what? "City crews destroyed the property..." Will the City stand by this claim? The "mayor was criticized for damaging this home..." No, the mayor was arrested! Remember they are saying this on TV and calling it news.

Author
pikersam
Date
2007-02-09T02:08:03-06:00
ID
125329
Comment

Pike writes: Last August, city crews destroyed the property in Jackson during a campaign to get rid of abandoned homes. *blink* That's certainly an interesting way of putting it... Cheers, TH

Author
Tom Head
Date
2007-02-09T02:10:39-06:00
ID
125330
Comment

As always, I hate to see Judge Green get reversed. I want to see her career advance. I hope she will continued to be courageous and forward-thinking. I congratulate Pieter for doing a good job. The DA's office will just have to study the matter and match Melton's team with talent and preparation. Big moments separates the men from the boys and the women from the girls.

Author
Ray Carter
Date
2007-02-09T09:31:55-06:00
ID
125331
Comment

Proposed new slogan for WJTV: WJTV--there's a reason you're not watching.

Author
Brian C Johnson
Date
2007-02-09T10:23:45-06:00
ID
125332
Comment

WJTV--there's a reason you're not watching. Which is why I watch WAPT.

Author
golden eagle '97
Date
2007-02-09T10:34:18-06:00
ID
125333
Comment

From The Clarion-Ledger today: During the Circuit Court hearing in October, Jackson police Detective Brendon Bell testified he observed crack cocaine and marijuana in the duplex that had been occupied by Evans Welch during a drug interdiction in October 2005. But the Police Department could not provide records showing arrests for crack cocaine at the address. Why am I skeptical when the police talk about finding drugs--which still wouldn't necessarily make the Ridgeway duplex a "crack house," per se--but can produce no paper work or arrest records or other evidence to substantiate the claim? This sounds very like the motion--which Judge Green ordered sealed--in which Marcus Wright claimed that he had been to the Ridgeway duplex as part of a drug task force in 2005. They found all sorts of drugs in the duplex--but mysteriously, they made no arrests. Once again, there is no paper work to substantiate the claim. I'm not saying these folks are lying, though that might be a more charitable interpretation than the one they leave us. To put it bluntly: If the duplex was crawling with drugs, why didn't you make any arrests? They've put themselves in a weird position. In order for it to be "OK" that Melton and the police demolished the duplex, they have to argue that it was a "drug house." In order to argue that it was a "drug house," they have to argue that they knew it was a drug house, yet they still made no arrests or even visited the place again--as far as we can tell--from October 2005 to August 2006. So, these officers are either lying about what they saw or they are admitting that they are incompetent, at least to the extent that they did nothing about this big, bad crack house on Ridgeway. Heckuva job, fellas.

Author
Brian C Johnson
Date
2007-02-09T11:17:57-06:00
ID
125334
Comment

I agree Brian and this is some of what the DA's office has to argue well.

Author
Ray Carter
Date
2007-02-09T11:22:20-06:00
ID
125335
Comment

Let's get back to the duplex situation. If I am not mistaken, there was a woman and baby living in the non-destroyed side of the Ridgeway duplex. She reputedly fled when the fracus started. Now, just because she is a mother, it doesn't mean she was not engaged in selling or using drugs, but did destroying one side of a duplex 'during a campaign to get rid of abandoned homes' mean that a young mother with baby plus a mentally challenged man were residing in an abandoned house' [duplex]? I thought both sides were being paid for and utilities were connected.

Author
ChrisCavanaugh
Date
2007-02-09T12:43:12-06:00
ID
125336
Comment

Chris, My understanding is that the other half of the duplex was vacant at the time of this incident.

Author
Brian C Johnson
Date
2007-02-09T14:59:22-06:00
ID
125337
Comment

Did anyone see Melton reveal his chest yesterday on WLBT? He wanted to squash those rumors (flying around on the Kim Wade Show this week) that he never had heart bypass surgery. People were calling in stating that there is no way he could have been swimming or up and about so soon after such serious surgery. If truth be told, those scars were really, really old. The scars proved he did indeed have his chest cracked opened, and that a vein was removed from his leg as part of the surgery, but those scars looked really old, and they were already healed. No one heals that fast. Something's fishy. I think he had the surgery a long time ago, didn't tell anybody about it until recently, and that explains why he's doing so well. Any thoughts on this???

Author
blu_n_a_redstate
Date
2007-02-10T21:00:50-06:00
ID
125338
Comment

If he's that well recovered, the only reason to tell it now is to play the sympathy card in advance of his trial next month.

Author
Ironghost
Date
2007-02-10T21:50:46-06:00
ID
125339
Comment

Odd you should say the scar was old; a doctor told me that this morning. But, the "x's" were clearly visible on the left front shoulder where the pacemaker lines would have been and one of the drain scars looked fresh. The bruising on the leg appeared real. So, who knows? The whole episode has been very unprofessional, but what's new?

Author
ChrisCavanaugh
Date
2007-02-10T23:46:22-06:00
ID
125340
Comment

Looks like they cut'em up pretty good. The bottom of his chest scar looked fresh as did the tube holes. Dude is just tough as nails! In fact, after seeing the scars, I'm convinced that we are the fools; and it's time to stop doubting this man. Frank knows best; and, we are all just guest stars in his movie. ;-p

Author
pikersam
Date
2007-02-11T00:06:59-06:00
ID
125341
Comment

Okay, I've been googling and cannot find something and now need everyone's help. Wasn't there a story reported in January that the U.S. Supreme Court actually had a three-judge panel rule in favor of Judge Green's injunction and that the City could not call the house a "crack house?" It is my understand that the original ruling was called back by the Supreme Court, possibly the Chief Justice, and then a new three judge panel looked at the request of the city - thus the new ruling and flurry of articles on February 9th. Wasn't the original three judge panel the more liberal of the group - Graves, Diaze and Carlson? Why was this original ruling taken back and, in essense, reversed? Did the Chief Justice, who has no like for Hinds County judges if you read recent press about how business is done, ask that the ruling be taken back? Anyone else remember this? We need to find it and ask some questions.

Author
JenniferGriffin
Date
2007-02-15T11:39:03-06:00
ID
125342
Comment

I FOUND IT! The Clarion Ledger did report on December 16, 2006 that the "High Court Turns Away Jackson's Appeals"...story was written by Kathleen Baydala...says Justices won't overturn rulings tied to case of home allegedly damaged by Melton, entourage...continues: The fight over whether Jackson officials can refer to a Ridgeway Street duplex allegedly damaged by the mayor and his crew as a "crack house" may not be over. Attorneys for the city last month appealed to the state Supreme Court asking it to overturn a Hinds County circuit judge's.... So, why was this decision pulled back and overturned? Okay Donna, you guys are a wonderful team of reporters who really get to the bottom line (uh, hum...sorry)...can you trace this one back and find out? Also, wonder why the Ledger didn't put this in their stories on February 9th? Would love to know what was wrong with the first opinion!

Author
JenniferGriffin
Date
2007-02-15T11:47:33-06:00

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