About 100 rally in Kennett to support defendant in Walmart case

Tuesday, November 17, 2009
Supporters of Heather Ellis gather on the Dunklin County Courthouse steps on Monday, Nov. 16, 2009, in Kennett, Mo. Nearly three years after Ellis switched checkout lines at a southeast Missouri Walmart store and touched off what she calls a racially charged dispute with white customers and authorities, the young black schoolteacher faces a trial that could send her to prison for 15 years. (AP Photo/Daily Dunklin Democrat, Deanna Coronado)

KENNETT, Mo. -- A crowd of people gathered at a rally for Heather Ellis chanted, "No justice. No peace," in Kennett on Monday, claiming that the allegations against the black woman accused of assault on police are false.

Approximately 100 protesters gathered at the Kennett Walmart at around 11 a.m., including members of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) and Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC). Also attending was event organizer and founder of the Syracuse, N.Y.-based Your Black World Coalition, Dr. Boyce Watkins.

The march went from Walmart down First Street to the steps of the Dunklin County Courthouse. Along the way, approximatley 30-40 counter-protesters held up confederate flags with skulls and crossbones and swastikas.

At the courthouse, various individuals took turns speaking on behalf of Ellis, claiming the incident is one of "civil rights abuse."

One of the speakers was Ellis' father, the Rev. Nathaniel Ellis.

"We are summoned here today from all over America," Ellis said, "because Dr. King, Jr., was right when he said, 'An injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.' Your presence here today has proved that love is thicker than hate.

"As we march forward, the question may be asked, 'What are we here for?' These proverbial questions are asked because seldom is Bootheel justice challenged with a force of this magnitude. We have converged upon Kennett, Missouri by the thousands because the life, liberty, and pursuit of happiness of a young, black, vibrant, intelligent, and well-educated young lady's rights have been strictly violated.

"This young lady happens to be my first born daughter. The daughter of a Church of God in Christ pastor who pastors in this town and an adjoining town, who happens to be an educator. We are here to voice our outrage and to publicly say that Heather Ellis is innocent of all bogus charges and I demand that all charges be dropped and her record be expelled."

Heather Ellis is facing up to 15 years in prison as a result of the incident at Walmart on Jan. 6, 2007.

Witnesses have told authorities that during the incident, Ellis cut in front of waiting customers at the Kennett Walmart, 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.

In a written complaint to the NAACP, Ellis claimed that she was then pushed by a white customer, hassled by store employees, called racial slurs and physically mistreated by Kennett police officers.

Police say in court documents that Ellis refused requests to calm down and leave the property, allegedly kicking one's shin and splitting another officer's lip while resisting arrest.

Ellis' written account to the NAACP describes she and her cousin getting into separate checkout lanes before Ellis switched into the faster-moving line. Ellis claims the woman behind them had placed items on the conveyor belt, and she alleged the woman pushed her when she tried to put her own items down.

Witnesses instead told police that Ellis shoved the woman's merchandise back, according to court filings.

Ellis wrote that a security officer and manager were called over and that although Ellis said she wanted to pay, the manager yelled at her to leave the store. Police were called and arrived.

Officers eventually followed her to the parking lot, Ellis said, using racial slurs and telling her to go back to the ghetto. Ellis said as her aunt and uncle drove into the parking lot, the officers "jumped" on her even though she said she was not resisting.

Officer A.W. Fisher wrote in a probable cause statement that Ellis was given "every opportunity" to comply with officers and leave the property. He said she used an expletive in telling him she would beat him if he put his hands on her.

Fisher said he then told Ellis she was under arrest, but she would not stop fighting while being handcuffed.

The Ellis trial is set to begin Wednesday morning in the Dunklin County Courthouse, with Judge Joe Z. Satterfield presiding.

Ellis is officially being charged with two counts of the Class C felony of assault on a law enforcement officer, one count of the Class B misdemeanor of peace disturbance, and one count of the Class A misdemeanor of resisting arrest.

Associated Press writer Betsy Taylor contributed to this story

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