Former bodyguard to testify against Jackson mayor

Published 1:40 pm Friday, October 10, 2008

A former police bodyguard for Jackson Mayor Frank Melton has struck a deal with federal prosecutors and will testify about what the mayor and another bodyguard did the night an alleged crack house was destroyed in a police-style raid.

Marcus Wright, 32, pleaded guilty Tuesday to a misdemeanor charge of conspiracy. He admitted he worked with Melton and Michael Recio to tear down the duplex in northwest Jackson on Aug. 26, 2006. Melton had labeled the structure a crack house.

Melton and Recio are set for trial Nov. 12 on charges of conspiracy and violating the civil rights of the home’s owner. Wright will be sentenced Dec. 30.

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Melton said he won’t hold Wright’s plea against him.

“I think Marcus is a very bright young man, and I will always love Marcus,” the mayor said. “He just needs to tell the court the truth and not get caught up in a trap of saying something that’s not true.”

The Jackson City Council, meanwhile, has split 3-3 in a vote on a failed request to cover attorney fees for Melton, Wright and Recio for their trial on state charges tied to the same night. The men were acquitted in state court last year.

Wright admitted in federal court that he entered the duplex without a search warrant and without asking for permission. He said he pulled his weapon inside the home.

Wright said that while he was in the house, Recio — also a Jackson Police Department detective — was with the mayor in the front yard as Melton ordered young men to destroy the duplex with sledgehammers. Later, the mayor joined the young men in smashing the duplex’s front windows with a large stick, Wright said.

Wright, Melton and Recio were indicted in July on charges they violated the constitutional rights of the tenant and owner of the duplex to be free of unreasonable search and seizure. A second charge said the men violated the constitution under the “color of law.” A third charge is that the men possessed a firearm while committing a crime of violence.

As part of the deal, Wright has agreed to never seek another law-enforcement job. He had been on the Jackson force for almost eight years and began serving as Melton’s bodyguard when the mayor took office in 2005.

During Wright’s plea hearing, federal prosecutors read a detailed description of what investigators say happened. They said Recio drove the department’s mobile command unit and stopped at the duplex. Several young men, many of whom had criminal records, were with them.

“Melton contended that as mayor of Jackson he could do what he wanted,” said U.S. Department of Justice prosecutor Mark Blumberg.

Blumberg also said the mayor had been drinking Scotch and water earlier that day. He said the mayor “routinely” drank the combination before going out on law enforcement-style sweeps.

As the house was being damaged, “A crowd had gathered. … Melton turned to the crowd and asked, ’Are there any other houses around here I need to knock down?”’ Blumberg said.

Federal prosecutors made no recommendation about whether Wright should spend time in prison. The misdemeanor charge carries up to a year in prison and $100,000 in fines plus up to five years probation.