Lawyer in Jackson mayor’s trial wants news footage

Published 1:41 pm Thursday, October 2, 2008

A defense attorney in a federal criminal case against Jackson Mayor Frank Melton wants a news station to hand over footage that does not appear to be directly related to the crimes in which the mayor is accused.

It’s another twist in an already strange case in which the mayor is accused of attacking a duplex and the federal government wants to ask potential jurors their three favorite TV shows.

Melton, 59, and two police bodyguards are accused of using a sledgehammer and sticks to destroy a home the mayor considered a crack house in 2006. They pleaded not guilty.

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Attorney John Colette, who represents one of the bodyguards, plans to subpoena a “records custodian” for WLBT TV, an NBC affiliate in Jackson, according to a filing Tuesday in federal court.

Colette wants access to WLBT footage of a 2006 incident involving Jackson police officers and an individual believed to be Michael Black.

In 2006, WLBT aired footage of a foot pursuit and standoff involving an 18-year-old man named Michael Black. In the footage, a police officer appeared to strike Black before he was shoved into a police car.

The footage does not appear to be directly related to the current federal accusations against Melton and the bodyguards — Jackson police officers Michael Recio and Marcus Wright.

Colette, who represents Wright, would not say Tuesday why he wants the news video.

“We’re just getting prepared for trial, that’s all I can say,” Colette said.

Melton and his bodyguards are accused of leading a group of young men to a duplex apartment in August 2006 and knocking out walls and windows. The mayor has claimed the home was rented by a known drug addict and had become a haven for illegal activity. The government wants to limit testimony that the house was a drug haven because prosecutor believe that would be prejudicial to their case.

The government also asked this week that Melton and the bodyguards not be able to mention the fact that they were acquitted on state charges related to the damaged duplex.

A judge did not immediately rule on those matters.

It’s not clear what relevance the videotaped scuffle has to the current case. The news footage of Black and three officers — Tyree Jones, Donald Gater and Keith Burnett — was taken in April, months before the incident in which Melton and the others are now charged.

Dennis Smith, WLBT’s news director, said Tuesday afternoon that the station had not yet been served with a subpoena, and he had not been able to ask Colette why he wants the footage.

“At this point we’re a little mystified as to what they need it for,” Smith said.

Following the videotaped confrontation with Black, the three officers were given letters saying they would be disciplined and possibly fired. However, Melton reportedly made statements at the time that firing the officers would be too harsh.

Assistant Police Chief Lee Vance said Tuesday that both Jones and Gater still work for the department. Burnett is no longer on the force, but Vance wouldn’t say why. Nor would he say whether the men faced any disciplinary action related to the confrontation because it’s “a personnel matter.”