Federal appeals court to determine defendants in Miss. lawsuit

Published 6:38 pm Tuesday, July 10, 2007

A federal appeals court will determine who will be a defendant — if anyone — in a lawsuit filed by a man who says he was mistakenly held for four months at the Harrison County jail.

As it stands now, only Harrison County Sheriff George H. Payne Jr. remains a defendant in the lawsuit filed by Donald E. Harris.

Payne has asked the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals to remove him as a defendant. Harris has asked the court to reinstate the other defendants dismissed by a judge in 2006.

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Harris claims he was mistakenly transported to the jail in Harrison County after being arrested and posting bond on a DUI charge in Forrest County in 2002.

U.S. District Judge Stanwood R. Duval in New Orleans issued an order Aug. 31, 2006, dismissing Harrison County supervisors and a list of Payne’s employees from the lawsuit. Duval also dismissed the sheriff in his official capacity, but ordered Payne kept in the suit on an individual basis.

The 5th Circuit has scheduled arguments in the case for Aug. 6 in New Orleans.

Harris originally was arrested in Forrest County on Sept. 28, 2002, and charged with drunken driving. After being held for three days, he posted bond and was to be released.

However, according to court documents, he apparently was re-arrested after Forrest County jailers received a fax from the Harrison County jail that said Harris was wanted in Harrison County on separate charges. Harris was taken to the Harrison County jail.

Lawyers for Harris say there were major problems: The Harrison County warrant named another Donald Harris with no middle name and a different Social Security number. It also sought a man in his late 30s. Harris, a construction and oilfield worker, was in his late 40s at the time. Further, Donald E. Harris is white. The Donald Harris being sought was black.

Harris’ lawsuit also claims he personally told Payne not long after the arrest that he was the wrong man.

Harris remained in the jail four months until a public defender visited him and discovered the mistake, according to court documents.

Duval inherited the case while serving temporarily in Mississippi after Hurricane Katrina. He took it with him upon returning to his permanent court in Louisiana.

Harris has already settled his claim against officials in Forrest County for an undisclosed sum.