By Floyd Ingram/Chickasaw Journal
OKOLONA – Circuit Court Judge Andrew Howorth ruled there is enough evidence to bring formal charges against Okolona Assistant Police Chief Romona Robertson following a hearing late Monday afternoon.
Howorth heard more than three hours or testimony and viewed video of the Mississippi Highway Patrol’s traffic stop of Robertson on Dec. 7 on Highway 32 just east of its intersection with Highway 15.
The state is expected to levy four charges against Robertson following the stop; possession of a controlled substance, driving under the influence, speeding and failing to comply with a law enforcement officer.
“While I have questions about the possession charge, I am going to let it stand and let those questions be decided by another court,” said Howorth. “There is absolutely no question about the validity of the DUI, failure to comply and the speeding charge.”
Howorth clarified his finding by saying the probable cause hearing in no way should determine the guilt or innocence of Robertson. Howorth also said, while the case merited a speedy trial, Chickasaw County Justice Court Judges might recuse themselves from the case, prompting him to find a special judge to hear the case.
District Attorney Ben Creekmore said he expected a court date be set in two to five weeks.
Robertson was detained by Trooper James Burrow on Friday, Dec. 7. Two videos shot from Burrow’s dashboard camera were shown at Monday’s probable cause hearing. Another video shot by Trooper Cindy Searcy at Trace Regional Hospital was also shown. Mention was made of a fourth video showing Robertson’s action and demeanor as she was being transported to the hospital by Searcy.
Burrow and Searcy said Robinson initially asked to take a blood test to prove she was not under the influence. Both officers said Robinson refused the test when they took her to the hospital.
“Based on what I saw, any other person would have gone to jail and not the hospital,” said Burrow. “She refused the test and was released to the custody of (Okolona) Police Chief Tommy Ivy.”
Under Mississippi law, school teachers and law enforcement officers working in the scope of their job can’t have charges filed against them until a probable cause hearing has been held. The intent of the law is to keep parents from filing assault charges against a teacher should their child be spanked and to prevent vindictive charges being filed against law enforcement officers making an arrest.
Ivy said he does not tolerate drug abuse by his officers but he saw Robertson on the afternoon prior to her stop and she appeared to be fine. Robertson was stopped about 10 p.m. that night.
Burrow said he clocked Robertson driving a white Okolona Police Department Challenger at 77 miles-an-hour in a 55 zone and watched her cross the centerline several times. Searcy said she found 18 pills, later determined to be hydrocodone in the driver’s door pocket of the car.
Testimony entered by several witnesses said Robertson had recently had eight teeth pulled and suffered from back pain.
Both Searcy and Burrow said they knew Robertson, she appeared to be under the influence and failed to follow their commands and directions during the traffic stop.
Robertson, the No. 2 police officer in Okolona, has continued to work for the department since the incident occurred.
No Justice Court date has been set for Robertson’s trial.
Defense attorney Ed Lancaster said he will seek a jury trial for Robertson.
The petition for Monday’s probable cause hearing was filed Jan. 4, by Creekmore and Chickasaw County Prosecuting Attorney Elizabeth Fox Ausbern. They will also prosecute the formal charges, should the case go to trial.