Heather Ellis, a college honor student in Kennett, MO, is facing 15 years in prison for an incident three years ago in which she was accused of cutting in front of someone in a Walmart checkout line. Like many people have done and do, Ellis and her cousin split up to find the shortest line, and since her cousin was in the shortest line, Ellis joined him. The cashier then accused her of cutting in front of the other customers, an argument ensued, the manager and security and, eventually, police were called.According to court documents filed by police and obtained by the local paper, Daily Dunklin Democrat, Ellis was “belligerent, angry, and hostile, cursing in an aggressive manner toward store employees.” This behavior allegedly continued after the police arrived, and Ellis refused to leave Walmart, even though police say she was given several opportunities to leave on her own free will. The affidavit says Ellis was flailing, fighting, and kicking three officers as they tried to place her in handcuffs. During the incident, she allegedly kicked one officer and struck another in the mouth. The police arrested her and transported her to the Dunklin County Jail after subduing her.
She was charged with disturbing the peace, trespassing, and two counts of assaulting a police officer. The town’s prosecutor, Stephen Sokoloff, offered Ellis a plea deal, which she refused to sign, and he filed felony charges against her. Heather could face 15 years in prison.
So far, this incident sounds like a run-of-the-mill arrest of someone who committed a crime. But several in the community aren’t buying the police’s account of the events because Kennett police allegedly have a history of misconduct against blacks. Supporters of Ellis have staged protests and rallies calling for her release. Prior to one march sponsored by the NAACP in June 2009, police found Ku Klux Klan cards scattered along the planned route. The derogatory materials were removed by the police before the march and organizers were made aware of the situation.
However, the threats from the KKK continue, and Ellis’ father believes a card, allegedly delivered by a police officer, from the Klan is part of a larger plot meant to further intimidate the family. He’s also calling for Walmart to release the surveillance video in order to clear his daughter’s name.
Your Black World Coalition, National Action Network, and Dr. Boyce Watkins, a prominent black professor at Syracuse University, have become involved in the case and have set up the website SaveHeatherEllis.com, which has garnered thousands of signatures in support of Ellis. Watkins is also calling for the investigation of Sokoloff by the Justice Department. Ellis’ trial is expected to begin Nov. 15. [The Daily Dunklin Democrat, The Root]