Federal trial scheduled in case against former officer

A jury trial has been set in a federal case against a former Mayflower police officer stemming from a 2014 incident where a Cabot woman helping tornado victims was arrested for allegedly stealing relief goods.

 

The case stems from a May 17, 2014, incident where former Mayflower officer Mark Alan Winchester arrested Melissa Brown for allegedly stealing food and goods meant for tornado victims following the EF4 tornado that swept across Arkansas on April 27, 2014. Felony theft of property charges against Brown were later dropped and Winchester was fired.

Brown filed the suit with the U.S. District Court Eastern District of Arkansas in Little Rock on May 17, two years after the initial incident. On Wednesday, a Sept. 18, 2017, jury trial was scheduled in the matter.

Winchester was fired from the Mayflower Police Department for breaking the whistleblower statute after he accused Brown of theft and failed to inform other law enforcement of the conflict of interest he had regarding the case. Winchester failed to inform anyone his son had been in a relationship with Brown that ended before the investigation and her arrest.

According to Winchester’s termination letter, he had “lost effectiveness as a police officer with the Mayflower Police Department and within the 20th Judicial District.”

In a letter to Mayflower Police Chief Robert Alcon dated Aug. 22, 2014, Prosecuting Attorney Cody Hiland said his office would no longer accept felony case submissions from Winchester.

“When someone withholds what we consider exculpatory, that’s huge in the prosecutorial world,” the letter reads. “The idea that he is blowing the whistle on anything is ludicrous.”

Brown is seeking relief from the City of Mayflower, Mayflower Police Department, Faulkner County Sheriff’s Office, Greenbrier Police Department, Damascus Police Department, Mayflower Mayor Randy Holland, Alcon, Mayflower officers Jeremy Lance Hanson and Wesley Tyra and Winchester.

In her complaint, Brown stated the defendants violated her Fourth and 14th Amendment rights. She also said Winchester inflicted emotional distress by maliciously prosecuting her.

Brown filed the lawsuit because she said she felt she “was denied due process, unlawfully arrested and incarcerated. As a result, she incurred significant legal expenses and loss of personal property,” the complaint states.

Brown also noted she “sustained mental pain and suffering, psychological injuries, and the loss of the capacity for the enjoyment of life.”

The FCSO filed a motion Tuesday requesting the case be dismissed because “a ‘sheriff’s office’ is not a ‘person’ amendable to suit.”

Defense attorney Kaylen S. Lewis said in a brief in support of the motion to dismiss that the sheriff’s office does not qualify as “a legal entity subject to suit” because “Arkansas law recognizes an entity only when it has been granted the authority to sue or to be sued.”

The jury trial is set for 9:30 a.m. Sept. 18, 2017, at the U.S. District Court Eastern District of Arkansas in Little Rock.

(Staff writer Marisa Hicks can be reached by email at marisa.hicks@thecabin.net or by phone at 505-1277. To comment on this and other stories in the Log Cabin, log on to www.thecabin.net. Send us your news at www.thecabin.net/submit)

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