Court sets Jan. 13 as date for Penton to enter plea

Published 3:17 pm Friday, October 30, 2009

Court sets Jan. 13 as date for Penton to enter plea

The date for Pearl River County school superintendent Dennis E. Penton to enter a plea in connection with a misdemeanor charge of failure to report a crime on school property has been set in Justice Court on Wednesday, Jan. 13.

Sheriff’s deputies on Tuesday served Penton with what is called a “post arrest citation” that he signed, saying he would appear in court and that he is released under his own recognizance until the plea date.

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By being released under his own recognizance means essentially that he did not have to post bond.

Penton was charged in an affidavit filed on Aug. 12 by Jill Dodd Frierson, a former employee of the school. She resigned on July 7.

The affidavit was sealed at the time it was filed until a “probable cause” hearing could be held by a circuit court judge.

The closed hearing was held on Oct. 19, and Senior Special Circuit Court Judge Richard W. McKenzie ruled that the case could go forward and ordered that Penton be “released from custody under his own recognizance…” after warrants were served.

State law requires a probable cause hearing be held when a school employee or law enforcement officer is charged with a crime. Until that hearing is held, all documents are sealed by the court.

Justice Court Judge James Hal Breland was assigned to hear the plea.

If Penton pleads not guilty, a trial date will be set.

Penton, as superintendent of education of the Pearl River County school district, is an elected official. He is the only elected school superintendent in the county. Picayune and Poplarville school superintendents are appointed by their respective boards.

The Pearl River County school board and superintendent manages the Pearl River Central schools at Carriere and McNeill. It is the only fully elected school board in the county. All five members and Penton are elected county officials.

Maximum penalty for the offense is a $1,000 fine or six months in jail, or both.

Penton’s attorney, Albert Necaise of Gulfport, earlier told the Item that he and his client had “no comment at this time.” A spokesperson for Frierson said she had “no comment.”