Ellis tells Missouri court white police attacked her

Friday, November 20, 2009 | 2:39 p.m. CST; updated 7:24 p.m. CST, Friday, November 20, 2009

KENNETT— Testimony in the trial of a black school teacher charged with assaulting police officers, resisting arrest and disturbing the peace at a Missouri store concluded Friday with the defendant telling the jury that white police officers had attacked and abused her.

Heather Ellis, from Louisiana, is accused of cutting in line at the Kennett Walmart in southeast Missouri in January 2007, then becoming belligerent and eventually attacking officers called in to quell the scuffle. The 24-year-old Ellis could face up to 15 years in prison if convicted of the felony charges against her.

The racial overtones of the case have drawn national interest. The customer who has accused Ellis of pushing in, the assistant store manager and arresting officers are all white.

Police have said Ellis used obscene language and kicked and bit officers as they led her out of the store.

In nearly two hours of testimony, Ellis denied cursing or attacking anyone. Instead, she said it was police who assaulted her in the parking lot after she was led outside.

"It felt like I was being choked. My hair was being pulled," Ellis said. "I was saying, 'Help! Help! Somebody help me please Jesus.'"

Ellis was then a 21-year-old college student home for Christmas break. Around 11 p.m. on Jan. 6, 2007, she and her 15-year-old cousin, David Taylor, went to Walmart to pick up a handful of items — Lunchables, cake, a hair care product and a bottle of orange juice.

When they got to the checkout line, aisle 13, it was moving slowly, Ellis said. So she moved over to aisle 14 while Taylor remained in 13, to see which line would move faster. Soon, Taylor motioned for Ellis to come back to his line.

But when Ellis moved in front of customer Teresa Kinder, an argument began. Ellis admitted swiping Kinder's merchandise back four times while she tried to get her goods checked out.

An assistant manager and security guard soon arrived. The prosecution contended Ellis was belligerent and verbally abusive to Kinder, called the assistant manager an "uneducated Walmart worker" and the cashier a "gray-haired old lady."

Ellis said it was Kinder who shoved her, and the assistant store manager who was rude.

By the time Ellis checked out, police had arrived and walked Ellis and Taylor out of the store. While the scuffle was happening, Taylor had called his mother — Ellis' aunt, Lillie Blackmun. Blackmun testified that over the phone she could hear police using racial slurs against Ellis.

Blackmun said she arrived in the parking lot at about the time officers began using force on Ellis. Ellis said Kennett officer Albert Fisher grabbed her by the back of the shoulder with such force that he ripped her leather jacket and swung her around. Other officers became involved and forced Ellis against the squad car, she said.

She was taken to jail and released early the next morning.

Once released, she went to a hospital emergency room. Dr. Benjamin Mozie testified that Ellis told him she had been assaulted and complained of neck pain, wrist injuries and a headache.

Defense attorney Scott Rosenblum presented evidence that had been discovered only Friday morning, when Ellis saw the leather jacket for the first time since the incident. Inside one pocket were documents from police and the hospital. Both, Rosenblum said, had blood stains from injuries to Ellis' wrist or hand.

Under questioning from prosecutor Morley Swingle, Mozie said he saw no evidence of any injury that would lead to bleeding. He also saw no outward signs of neck injury, but said Ellis' wrists were bruised.

Closing statements were scheduled for Friday afternoon, and the case will go to the jury after that.

Ellis teaches biology at a high school in Louisiana, where she is engaged to a state trooper.

The case has caused strong feelings in Kennett, a mixed-race community of 11,000 residents in the Bootheel region of Missouri. A rally on Monday drew more than 100 people in support of Ellis, but also a few dozen counter-protesters, some holding swastikas or waving Confederate flags.


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virginia baker November 20, 2009 | 5:41 p.m.

I truly feel for Ms.Ellis, because all parties concerned
should have resolved this matter in a totally different way.
I'm sure race played a big part in this especially in the
south where racism is still alive and practiced everyday.
Don't matter who you are down there or what you've accomplished, some people think they are superior to blacks.
Now,another black will feel the wrath. I pray that it won't
be jail time for Ms.Ellis because we need all the black school
teachers we can get. It's a shame that the store manager didn't just open up another lane for both the ladies instead
of adding fuel to the fire. Shame on that Wal-mart manager.

(Report Comment)
Charles Dudley Jr November 20, 2009 | 6:18 p.m.

virginia baker please research this story besides here on the Missourian.

They have the lady on Video Tape the entire time from the moment she started her little fit until her time of arrest.

If she was resisting arrest as the Video Tapes show then in the heat of the moment yes a slur might have slipped.

Do I condone it? No not at all but she is clearly out of line from the first moment she cut lines and started her little tirade of joy.

She did the crime of her own free will and in doing so gave up her right to be set free with no penalty included.

I for one hope she does 5 years.

(Report Comment)
john turchiano November 20, 2009 | 6:22 p.m.

Ah yes, but of course....she is the victim Virginia. i just don't remember if it was because she was black or because the white woman didn't offer to buy her items for her???

(Report Comment)
virginia baker November 20, 2009 | 7:10 p.m.

Yep, I should have researched this article more, because after
much thought Ms.Ellis (being a school teacher and all) should
have given her actions more thought and considered her place
as a role model for her students. Shame on her also. There is
no excuse for rudeness no matter what color you are. I just
hope and that she takes something away from all this and that
it isn't jail time. And she had a teenage cousin with her,.
It's a shame that all this is getting so much attention in the
media. I, for one, apologize for commenting on this story without getting all the facts. And I'm not prejudice by any means. "Ms.Ellis": YOU WERE WRONG AND YOUR ACTIONS WERE...... not of a teacher with a clear
sense of responsibilty to any of your
students black,white,green or whatever.

(Report Comment)
john turchiano November 20, 2009 | 7:27 p.m.

Virginia, i could not agree more. too much media coverage over something that at least on the surface seems like it was a local issue. we are all members of this society and must live/act civilly towards each other. if the police were out of line or made disparaging comments they should be held to task for it just as Ms. Ellis should if what was reported was accurate. i did hear that they just reached a plea. hopefully whatever the plea is, it is the right thing. and i too apologize if my response was too emotional, Virginia.

(Report Comment)
Ray Shapiro November 22, 2009 | 12:23 a.m.

Seems to me like Ellis was preventing and interfering with the Walmart cashier from doing their job and then the cashier called for help.
("Ellis will also be placed on unsupervised probation for a year, must serve four days of shock jail time and must attend at least two hours of anger management class. If she completes probation, her record will be wiped clean.
Swingle said he was pleased with the agreement and thought the penalty was fair — there was never an intention to seek prison time for Ellis, he said.

As for Kennett, Swingle believes the town's reputation took an unfair hit. "This is not a racist environment," he told reporters, drawing loud boos from several black residents standing nearby.

Moments later, Dwight Montgomery, a civil rights leader from the Southern Christian Leadership Conference in Memphis, Tenn., accused Kennett police and other officials of bigotry.

"This is a terrible place," Montgomery said. "There's a lot of injustice here."
("Witnesses have told authorities that Ellis cut in front of waiting customers at the Walmart in Kennett on Jan. 6, 2007, shoved merchandise already placed on a conveyor belt out of the way, and became belligerent when confronted, according to court filings.

Ellis maintains she was merely joining her cousin, whose checkout line was moving more quickly. She claimed in a written complaint to the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People that she was then pushed by a white customer, hassled by store employees, called racial slurs and physically mistreated by Kennett police officers.")
-There is no requirement that customers already on line must allow another person to "cut-in" or bring their merchandise up to the front of line upon
seeing a friend or relative on a "quicker moving" line.
IMHO, it was Ellis' aggressiveness, feeling of entitlement or an attempt to take advantage of an opportunity, without getting the "approval" of other customers all ready on line, that caused the problem. She chose to push forward and was only thinking of herself.
Too bad every overly sensitive, keep the past alive, "chip on their shoulder" black civil rights watchdog group jumped on this line-intruding faux pas and decided to make it into a big deal racial issue.
Public rudeness is public rudeness.
It escalated from there.

(Report Comment)

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