Charges against PRC’S Smith dropped

Published 1:45 pm Thursday, December 31, 2009

Circuit Court Judge Prentiss Harrell on Monday filed an order in circuit court here, saying that there is “no probable cause for the issuance of a warrant” for the arrest of Pearl River Central assistant principal Noel Doug Smith in connection with a felonious assault charge filed against him on Aug. 21 by former PRC teacher Jill Frierson.

The charge was filed in Pearl River County Justice Court. However, the charge went to a Circuit Court judge for a probable cause hearing because the charges involved a school official, which is required by state law.

The order comes after a two-hour hearing in circuit court on Dec. 4, during which both Frierson and Smith took the stand.

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State law requires that a probable cause hearing before a circuit court judge be held when a teacher or police officer is charged with either a misdemeanor or felony charge. The charge lodged against Smith, who is also the athletics director, was a felony.

If the judge rules there is probable cause, the case can go forward with arrest and trial, but if not, the charges are thrown out.

Frierson on Tuesday said she had “no comment” on the matter.

Also on Tuesday, Smith’s attorney, Pat Zachary of Hattiesburg, said, “We feel that it is proper under the circumstances to say no comment at this time.”

Harrell’s order reads:

“Order Determining No Probable Cause: On Dec. 4, 2009, this cause came on for hearing for a probable cause hearing pursuant to Miss. Code Ann. Section 99-3-28, the above defendant (Smith) having been charged by Affidavit made by Jill Frierson on Aug. 21, 2009, with violation of Miss. Code Ann. Section 97-3-7(1)(a), alleging that the above defendant did, on or about Jan. 12, 2009, in Pearl River County, Mississippi, purposely, knowingly and feloniously assault and attempt by physical menace to put Jill Frierson in fear of imminent bodily harm, Noel Douglas Smith being an assistant principal and Jill Frierson being the school health instructor acting within the scope of their duties, by grabbing, touching and holding Jill Frierson so tight that she could not defend herself, against the peace and dignity of the State of Mississippi. The court having heard and considered the same, finds as follows, to-wit: There is no probable cause for the issuance of a warrant. So ordered and adjudged, this 21st day of December, A.D., 2009.”

The order was signed by Judge Harrell.

It was this alleged assault charge filed on Aug. 21 by Frierson against Smith, that also prompted the filing of misdemeanor charges against Pearl River County School Superintendent Dennis E. Penton, also on Aug. 21, by Frierson, charging Penton with failure to report a crime on school property.

Frierson alleged she reported the alleged assault to Penton and that he did not report it to the proper authorities, which he is charged by law to do. Frierson resigned her teaching position at the school on July 7.

Penton’s probable cause hearing was held on Oct. 19, prior to Smith’s hearing.

Special Circuit Court Judge Richard W. McKenzie, Sr., ruled after Penton’s hearing that there was probable cause to go forward in court with Penton’s charges.

Penton’s hearing was closed by McKenzie, but the Smith hearing was held in an open hearing by Judge Harrell.

What happens now was unclear by Wednesday.

Albert Necaise, attorney for Penton, told the Item earlier that he planned to file a motion to dismiss the charges against Penton because the court ruled there is no probable cause that a crime was committed in the Smith case.

As of Wednesday no motions had been filed in Justice Court involving the Penton case and the Jan. 13 plea date for Penton was still on the court schedule.

Following the ruling by Judge McKenzie, Penton was arrested by Pearl River County sheriff’s deputies and then released without bond under his own recognizance. A plea date was set for Penton in Pearl River Co. Justice Court for Wednesday, Jan. 13, so he can enter a plea in the case.

Scott Phillips, the Marion County prosecuting attorney who was appointed as a special prosecutor in the cases after Pearl River County prosecuting attorney Aaron Russell, Jr., recused himself in the cases because his wife teaches in the Pearl River Central school system, on Tuesday said that just because the charges against Smith were thrown out does not mean that the charges against Penton won’t be pursued.

“Of course, however, it is the judge’s decision on that. But these are two separate cases and each will be handled on its own merits,” Phillips said. “His (Penton’s) charge under the law is to report an incident, no matter what the circumstances.”