James Hagan's legal battle affects family,future

By The Associated Press

OCEAN SPRINGS, MISS. — It was Nov. 29, 2011 – the day James Hagan’s life changed forever.

The Ocean Springs alderman was in his office at Moss Point, where he worked as a code enforcement officer, when deputies from the Jackson County Sheriff’s Office arrived and arrested him on charges of improper touching of a child for lustful purposes – the alleged incident involving one of his teenage stepdaughters.

Other charges would follow – one for embezzlement of a laptop issued to him by the City of Ocean Springs and one for child exploitation over a pornographic video involving a child found on one of his computers.

A Jackson County Grand Jury would ultimately clear Hagan of the improper touching and embezzlement charges, but did indict him on the child pornography charge.

On Nov. 30, 2012 – one year and one day after Hagan’s initial arrest – the Jackson County district attorney’s office dropped the last charge against him, saying the “evidence in the case does not rise to meet the burden of proof beyond a reasonable doubt.”

While the specter of prosecution no longer lingers over Hagan, his ordeal is far from over. He and his family continue to struggle with all that has transpired in the past year.

“It’s hard to describe,” Hagan said during an interview at Ocean Springs City Hall. “There’s no one word to describe it. It’s something I’ve never felt, never had to deal with. Just so many bad things associated with this and involving my family.”

He said he is bitter.

“Definitely. Very much so,” Hagan said. “There are so many people who did so many wrong things to me, for whatever reason that I can’t help but be bitter. But I keep it contained pretty much and don’t make decisions based on that.”

Hagan and his wife, Kim, are the parents of three children: Katie, 18; Mallory, 17 and Zane, 11. The two girls are Hagan’s stepdaughters.

On the night of his initial arrest, the Mississippi Department of Human Services removed all three children from the Hagan’s home – at the direction of Sheriff Mike Byrd, according to Hagan.

“That’s one of the biggest things that bothered me – and still does – that they took my son away overnight, all on one man’s order. My son was nine at the time and had never been without me or his mother. He still has problems and issues because of that. The girls were older and had been away from home.

“I was in jail that night, didn’t go back to my house and they still felt they had to take the kids away. That upset everybody. From then on, it never got any easier. It’s not even easy today. There’s so many things in my personal life that will never be like they were. There’s so much I can never get back because of this.”

Hagan said the events of the past year have strained his relationship with his children.

“It’s still difficult,” he said. “It put us in an awkward position, but we all understood there was never anything to it. But I’m scared of everything right now. I worry that if this can happen off of nothing, what can happen next? It still bothers me.

“So I’m probably the one withholding the most emotion right now. I still have to overcome that.”

Hagan lost his job with the City of Moss Point during his ordeal and there were calls in the media and from Mayor Connie Moran for him to resign his post as an alderman. He said he briefly considered resigning, but opted to remain. Under Mississippi law, public officials can only be forced from office for a conviction.

“I can’t say that I never thought about it, but I didn’t give it much thought,” Hagan said. “I knew I couldn’t be forced to resign and I knew I hadn’t done anything wrong. So I couldn’t figure out for the life of me why I should resign, as many people were saying. I knew I hadn’t done anything wrong and felt I owed it to everybody to stay here and prove that and continue doing my job.”

At the Dec. 4 board of alderman meeting – his first after being cleared of the final charge – Hagan acknowledged he will seek a third term next year. He knows, however, he will have an uphill battle overcoming the stigma which remains attached to him in some people’s eyes.

“There’s going to be those people for whom it won’t matter what you say or do,” he said. “It’s never going to change. I have to live with that for the rest of my life. My wife and my kids have to live with that for the rest of their lives. It doesn’t matter where we go. All you have to do is Google my name and it’s all still on the Internet – forever.

“Even when you Google me now, all the bad stuff pops up. You have to scroll down to find anything good. So it’s just something I’m going to have live with. I do believe the people in Ward Six are smart enough to understand that, yes, sometimes things like this do happen – especially here in Jackson County. I’ve been told there are people who are going to run against me, who want me gone, but we’ll see. I just know the citizens will do the right thing.”

Hagan said the ordeal has strengthened his relationship with his parents and his wife, saying that – along with the support of friends – is perhaps the one positive which has come out of it all.

Other than his position as an alderman, which pays about $1,700 a month, Hagan has not worked since his initial arrest and is not sure what the future holds for him.

“The job I held in Moss Point has been filled and I don’t expect them to fire somebody to give me my job back,” he said. “I could probably go back to work for Moss Point in some function, but I’m just trying to figure out if maybe there’s something more I want to do with my life than what my previous goals have been.

“Right now, I’m just trying to make do as I can and we’ll worry about the rest here in the near future.”

One aspect of the immediate future for Hagan may involve taking action against those he believes responsible for his ordeal. He and his attorney, Adam Miller, both acknowledge they are considering multiple options.

“We’re pursuing every avenue of recourse I may have and trying to decide what’s in my best interest at this point,” Hagan said.

He was asked if those options included possible legal action against the Jackson County Sheriff’s Department.

“That’s definitely an option,” he said. “It’s all being considered.”

Read more here: http://www.sunherald.com/2012/12/23/4373793/james-hagans-legal-battle-affects.html#storylink=cpy