Grand jury decides not to indict officers

Published 2:42 pm Friday, December 18, 2009

A Forrest County grand jury has decided not to indict two Petal police officers accused of using excessive force during a traffic stop, court officials said.

Frederick Russell claimed he was stopped by police for a seat belt violation in June and was arrested for disorderly conduct after asking why he was pulled over.

Cassie Myers, Russell’s girlfriend, said she saw the officers hit Russell on his legs with their batons and use pepper spray on him.

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“The officer told him to turn around and he asked, ‘What did I do?’ and then they grabbed his arm and slammed him against the car,” she said in a June interview with the Hattiesburg American newspaper.

District Attorney Jon Mark Weathers said Wednesday the case against the unidentified officers was presented to the grand jury last week.

Petal Assistant Police Chief Matthew Hiatt said the entire force was happy to hear the news of no indictments.

“Obviously, I’m certainly pleased with the outcome. I feel comfortable with the way that it was handled,” he said.

Michael Adelman, Russell’s attorney, would not comment on the possibility of a civil case being filed against the department.

“We’re still analyzing the situation — the whole case,” he said.

Adelman said Russell still has to stand trial on the disorderly conduct charge on Jan. 26. He said the grand jury outcome would not affect a civil lawsuit, however.

“The criminal charges do not necessarily drive the civil case. There’s a different standard and burden of proof,” he said.

Police do not agree with Adelman’s statement, however.

“I feel comfortable since the criminal case showed no wrongdoing it would be a similar outcome in a civil case,” Hiatt said. “As police officers, we are concerned by those kinds of accusations because of the line of work we’re in.”

Hiatt said he is supportive of their actions.

“We don’t have a textbook way of doing things, there’s so many different variables when you encounter an individual,” he said. “As long as any one of our officers makes a reasonable decision, I would support them in that.”