Reaction to plea deal from both sides of the Heather Ellis case

Monday, November 23, 2009 ~ Updated 2:07 PM
Heather Ellis (center) stands with family, and her attorney, Scott Rosenblum (far right), in front of various local and national media outlets following her plea of guilt to peace disturbance and resisting arrest. (Deanna Coronado/Daily Dunklin Democrat)

KENNETT, Mo. -- Following Heather Ellis' plea deal in her trial for assaulting police, resisting arrest and peace disturbance at a local Walmart, Kennett Police Chief Barry Tate said that he was glad it was over for the officers, the city of Kennett, and himself.

"I was surprised by the last minute plea deal, and am not sure the punishment is quite what I was expecting for last the three years," Tate said.

He added that he considered it a win for the city and the officers and that he stood by them all along.

"I am proud of the officers," Tate said.

Ellis was on trial for an incident at the Kennett Walmart in January 2007 in which she was accused of cutting in line, then verbally abusing customers and assaulting police when they were called to escort her out of the store.

In the lead up to the trial, accusations were made that Ellis was treated unfairly based on her race.

Tate noted that the city had to endure slander, especially in the last three months.

He added that the rallies on Ellis' behalf that took place in Kennett were saying the city was racist and he didn't like it.

"We are not racist and don't treat people different by color," Tate said.

He explained that the department will continue to its job, to the best of its ability.

Kennett police officer and witness for the prosecution Phillip Caldwell noted that it had been a long three years.

He added that he had listened to the slander on the news and the accusations made.

"Everything showed what they say happened didn't," Caldwell said.

He explained that they tried to make the city and county look bad when it isn't.

Caldwell said that he would continue to do his job the same way and that he was glad that the city and general public stood behind the officers.

Prosecuting Attorney Morley Swingle said that he wanted the public to see that if you resist arrest there will be repercussions.

He noted that the punishment fit the crime for the first-time offender.

Ellis reached a plea deal with the prosecution on Friday in which she avoided a felony conviction. Ellis, a Kennett native who now teaches school in Louisiana, pleaded guilty to resisting arrest and peace disturbance. Swingle dropped two felony counts of assault on a law officer.

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.

"To me, this is a good result in this place," Swingle said. "I don't think anybody wanted to see her go to prison or spend a long time in jail."

He added that he believe it had "dogged on" for three years because both sides were adamant about their position.

Swingle also noted that Dunklin County Prosecuting Attorney Stephen Sokoloff, who recused himself from the case, was never seeking prison time in the plea he had offered earlier.

"I think she deserves credit for admitting to the peace disturbance and resisting arrest," Swingle said.

He explained that the police officers were all satisfied with the exact plea deal when the offer was made last week.

Swingle added that because of things said by people not a part of the case, the reputation of the community had been damaged to some degree.

Swingle said that he believed Kennett was like any other town in the United States and that it was not a racist environment.

"I felt this is what I would do for the typical person, who was a first time offender," Swingle said.

Following the trial the defendant Heather Ellis shared her thoughts on the case and her admission of guilt regarding two of the charges she faced.

Ellis said, "I was responsible for my actions and able to say that I did wrong."

She noted that it was now time for everybody else to step up to the plate and admit that they did wrong.

Ellis added that, during cross-examinations, the public found out that she did not "break in line" and that she was actually shoved first by Kinder.

She explained that the public also learned that she did not yell or curse.

"I was speaking loud in tone, as I do always," Ellis said.

She noted that she thought that it was important that her story got out and that people understand the truth.

"If I would have signed the plea bargain before, I wouldn't have had the opportunity to let the world know," Ellis said.

She noted that the witnesses, giving reports of her cursing, were not telling the truth and that they had all been schooled on what to say.

"We didn't even use racism as part of our angle because we know the area we are dealing with and know that there had already been a lot of publicity about that," Ellis said. "The prosecutor, in closing statement, actually introduced race as something. This gives me a clear mind and I know the story came out and I feel good about that."

Ellis' attorney Scott Rosenblum answered questions from the media regarding whether the case was 'win or lose' for Ellis.

Rosenblum said, "I think it's a win. [Ellis] wanted it all brought out to broad daylight and it has been."

He noted that the defense's information showed that the jury was "obviously" going back and forth.

"I have gotten to know this lady in the last couple of months and she is strong lady, a brave lady, and incredibly intelligent," Rosenblum said. "She has many different varied interests and I would predict that she will be a successful teacher and go on to medical school and be a successful doctor."