GULFPORT -- With help from a Coast attorney, criminal charges that were never proven are being cleared from the record of Marine and Army National Guard veteran John Russelman, who spent almost six months in jail before the most serious charge was dismissed.
When not in jail, Russelman has spent the last two years in the woods, where he lives in a tent. He traveled the world as a young Marine, serving in Operation Dessert Storm, then joined the National Guard as a middle-aged veteran. He served with the Guard for a year in Iraq, from 2009-2010.
He was back on reserve duty, training at Camp Shelby, when a medical emergency felled him in the woods in late 2011. At the beginning of 2012, he had surgery on his left leg, which still causes him problems.
By January 2014, he had been evicted from his apartment and was living in the woods. That's when his real trouble started.
A woman with a history of filing unfounded police reports accused Russelman of threatening to hurt her. He went to jail twice based on sworn statements she filed. A grand jury dismissed one of the charges, a felony. The other charge, a misdemeanor, had been put on hold pending the outcome of the felony.
Attorney Brad Rath agreed to take on Russelman's case, which the attorney heard about from homeless advocate Jamie Bates of Gulfport. The Sun Herald was able to supply Rath court records he needed to research the case.
"How do you not help a guy like that?" said Rath, who is providing his legal expertise free of charge.
Rath talked Monday with Harrison County Prosecutor Herman Cox, who signed off on expungement of the misdemeanor charge pending against Russelman in Justice Court. Once the prosecutor agreed, Judge Diane Ladner signed the order of expungement, which will remove the charge from Russelman's record. Rath then crossed the street to Circuit Court, where he said it might take a couple of days to get the felony expunged.
Russelman, 49, hopes to find a job and housing once his record is cleared. The Department of Veterans Affairs says it has the resources to house most homeless veterans, but Russelman has received no housing assistance from the VA.
Bates said he is working with staff members from U.S. Sen. Roger Wicker's office to see if help is available from the VA and also to appeal Russelman's application for VA disability benefits.