Assault charge dismissed against judge

Published 4:51 pm Friday, February 29, 2008

A simple assault charge stemming from a county employee’s claim that Hinds County Chancery Judge William Singletary held a machete to his throat has been dismissed by a special judge appointed to hear the case.

Bob Merritt, an employee of the Hinds County tax assessor’s office, said the assault occurred in 2006 when he went to make an appraisal on an addition to the judge’s home.

“I certainly was in fear of bodily harm,” Merritt testified in Hinds County Justice Court.

Rankin County Justice Court Judge Richard Redfern, who was appointed to hear the case, ruled Singletary’s actions didn’t amount to a crime after an hour-long trial on Thursday.

Redfern said the case came down to Merritt trying to do his job and a landowner concerned about someone being on his property. The key, Redfern said, was whether Singletary initially knew who Merritt was.

“I don’t think so,” Redfern said.

Merritt, who was 53 at the time, has said that on Aug. 30, 2006, he parked his marked county vehicle in front of Singletary’s house, rang the door bell and knocked, but got no answer.

Merritt said he was measuring the dimensions of a garage on Singletary’s property when the judge walked up behind him and threatened his life.

“He grabbed me from behind,” Merritt said at the time, adding that the machete was held at his neck.

Merritt said after Singletary grabbed him, he identified himself and begged the judge to call 911, but he continued to hold the machete to his neck and ushered him to his county vehicle.

Singletary, at the time, said he was working in his garage when he was startled by someone walking in his backyard.

Singletary denied that he put the machete to Merritt’s neck and said he could not see any employee badge that would signify that the man had a reason to be on his property.

Merritt also has a civil lawsuit pending against Singletary. The case has yet to be heard.

Singletary is also facing a resisting arrest and disorderly conduct charges filed by the Clinton Police Department over a confrontation involving Singletary and two of his neighbors over their barking dog. The case has yet to come to trial.

Information from: The Clarion-Ledger, http://www.clarionledger.com