Melton, bodyguards indicted for alleged civil rights violations

A federal grand jury has indicted Jackson Mayor Frank Melton and his two police bodyguards on charges related to damage caused to an alleged drug house on Ridgeway Street on Aug. 26, 2006.

The charges allege that Melton and bodyguards Marcus Wright and Michael Recio conspired to violate the civil rights of Jennifer Sutton, who owned the home, and Evans Welch, who lived there, when the trio and a group of young men used sledgehammers and other implements to damage the structure. Melton has claimed drugs were sold out of the building and that local residents had complained about it.

The men also are charged with using a firearm during the commission of a violent crime. The conspiracy charges carry a maximum sentence of 10 years in prison. The firearm charge carries a minimum five-year sentence.

Specifically, the indictment alleges:

-Melton, Wright and Recio brought several young men, many of whom were minors, aboard the Jackson Police Department Mobile Command Unit to go with them while “they engaged in law enforcement activities”;

-Wright ordered the occupants out of the home at gunpoint;

-Melton used a “large stick” to break out the windows of the home;

-Melton ordered the young men accompanying him to “damage and destroy the home” using sledgehammers while Wright and Recio stood guard;

-Melton, Wright and Recio returned later with the young men the same evening and the mayor again ordered the young men to destroy the home and its contents while Wright and Recio stood guard; and

-Melton, Wright and Recio carried firearms during these activities.

The indictment claims these actions violated federal civil rights statutes by depriving Sutton and Welch of their rights to unreasonable searches and seizures.

City Council President Leslie Burl McLemore, a frequent critic of the mayor, said the indictment caught him by surprise. For the better part of a year, reports have surfaced of a continuing federal investigation, but McLemore said he figured it was “idle talk.”

“A cat has nine lives and he probably has 11,” he said of the mayor. “I just never figured that they would get to this point.”

Ward 4 Councilman Frank Bluntson, one of the mayor’s most loyal friends, said he was surprised at all.

“They came and interviewed me, the FBI and the U.S. attorney who is doing this case,” he said. “They talked to me about an hour at City Hall.”

Blunston said he was served with a subpeona and summoned to appear before the grand jury May 6, but he was never called to testify.

“Maybe they didn’t want the grand jury to hear what I had to say,” he said.

Blunston said he has heard the mayor’s political enemies are behind the charges, although he has never seen any proof.

This is the second time Melton, Wright and Recio have been indicted over the incident on Ridgeway Street. A Hinds County grand jury indicted the trio in September 2006 on several felony charges, including burglary and malicious mischief. A jury found them not guilty in a trial in April 2007.

Melton also faced a criminal jury in November 2006 over charges that he illegally carried his handguns onto the campus of the Mississippi College law school, a church and a city park. Melton pleaded to lesser charges in that case and received probation.

Bluntson said there are more pressing issues federal authorities should be dealing with.

“I wish the federal government would get concerned to do something about the crimes that are being committed instead of trying to run down one man who has already been tried on a state charge,” he said.

In the meantime, he said the mayor should keep fighting. He also said it should not affect Melton’s hopes at re-election.

“People were expecting this anyway,” he said. “A lot of people feel this is the same thing that already has been dealt with.”

McLemore, who has said he is considering running against Melton for mayor next year, was among the first to call on the mayor to resign when he was indicted nearly two years ago. He said he stands by that today.

Melton’s continuing troubles with the law have placed “a cloud over our heads,” he said.

“It could be strung out for weeks and months and even years. The longer you string it out the bigger the cloud that is gathering,” he said. “This may be the impetus for the mayor to reconsider his role as the elected leader as the city of Jackson.”

Clarion Ledger