Stone County

Lawsuit settled that accused Wiggins police officers of excessive force

GULFPORT -- A lawsuit alleging three Wiggins police officers assaulted a man in municipal court and in a hallway was settled with undisclosed terms following a three-day trial.

U.S. District Judge Sul Ozerden dismissed the lawsuit of Jack Ronald Smith Jr. with prejudice Dec. 16. Dismissal with prejudice means a complaint can't be brought back to court.

The officers' interactions with Smith were videotaped by a courtroom security camera and a woman's cellphone, Ozerden said in a 32-page partial summary judgment signed Nov. 9. Ozerden had ruled in favor of the city and for all but three officers named as defendants. He had decided the remaining officers should be tried in their individual capacities and said a jury could determine if the officers deprived Smith of his rights.

The trial of officers Michael Carter, Randy Vinson and John Rhodes started Dec. 14. On its third day, the judge was notified a confidential agreement had been reached.

The lawsuit, filed Jan. 24, 2014, accused officers of using excessive force when they removed Smith from Wiggins Municipal Court on a judge's order a year earlier. Smith has a longtime arm injury and was being treated for PTSD, the suit said.

Smith claimed the officers grabbed his permanently injured right arm -- which he wears in a medical sling -- dragged him out of court, choked him in a hallway and slammed his head against the wall.

Wiggins police had arrested Smith on a DUI charge June 30, 2012. He also faced related traffic charges.

Smith went to his misdemeanor trial accompanied by his sister, Cuppie Day.

Municipal Court Judge Sean Courtney rescheduled the hearing. Smith and Day were leaving the courtroom when Smith said, "F--- you," Ozerden wrote. Smith's sister claimed the comment was intended for her, not the municipal judge.

Police escorted Smith back in the courtroom and Courtney ordered Smith arrested on a contempt charge.

Day accompanied Smith to court again Jan. 22, 2013. After hearing testimony, Judge Brad Rath found Smith guilty on all charges and sentenced him to five days in jail.

Ozerden gave this account of what the city court video showed:

Two officers tried to take Smith into custody but Smith kept talking to the judge, disputing the verdict and asking about an appeal. Vinson put his hand on Smith's right arm or shoulder in an apparent attempt to guide Smith out of the courtroom. Smith pulled away from Vinson and fell on the courtroom floor, and Vinson, Carter and another officer carried or dragged Smith out of the courtroom.

Day used her cellphone to record a video in the hall.

Her video, Ozerden said, showed Smith sitting on the floor with an officer, believed to be Carter, kneeling; the officer stood up, pressed a hand on the back of Smith's head and forced him against the wall.

Smith's attorney, James Halliday, said Smith could be heard screaming in agony and begging the officers to quit hurting him.

"Evidence at trial was proving he was assaulted and was not resisting," Halliday said.

"This all started because (Smith) and his sister called the officers liars at the misdemeanor hearing and it made the officers mad," he said.