PT: don’t play this too high on the page, or make the head too big
Deputy testifies policeman suggested setting up Tupelo councilman
By Philip Moulden
ABERDEEN – A Lee County sheriff’s deputy said Wednesday a ranking Tupelo police officer suggested he “set up” City Councilman Tommy Doty before Doty’s arrest on minor traffic changes in February 1993. But the deputy said he didn’t take the remark seriously.
Mike Scribner, a K-9 unit dog handler for the sheriff’s department, testified in federal court the proposal was made by Fred Collins, assistant commander of the North Mississippi Narcotics Unit, a regional antidrug force manned by officers from Tupelo and other cities and counties.
“He (Collins) told me, ‘Bubba, you ought to get that Doty,'” Scribner testified. “I just didn’t take it seriously.”
Doty is seeking unspecified damages in a lawsuit against Tupelo Police Master Sgt. Richard Erickson, who arrested the councilman Feb. 3, 1994, on two minor traffic counts. Doty was later cleared of both charges following a municipal court trial.
The councilman was also given three breath alcohol tests after his traffic stop, all of which showed he registered below 0.10 percent, the state’s presumptive level to prove drunken driving. Still, he was taken to jail, an unusual step involving minor traffic violations.
Doty contends Erickson and other city officials were engaged in a conspiracy to embarrass and humiliate him in retaliation for his public condemnation of alleged misuse of drug “buy” money and a state-owned airplane operated by the drug unit.
Based on complaints by Doty and City Councilman Sims Reeves to the state auditor’s office, the state reclaimed the airplane.
Audit investigator John Shannon testified the probe confirmed the airplane was used for trips to the Bahamas and Las Vegas. He also cited at least one instance where a narcotics officer turned in a receipt for reimbursement from a restaurant that didn’t exist.
But Shannon also said Erickson was not involved in any findings of the probe. The investigation is continuing, he said.
Scribner also testified he had never heard Erickson refer to a plan to frame or entrap Doty.
But he said he had heard other city narcotics officers criticize the councilman, noting they seemed “aggravated” by Doty’s actions. It “was pretty well known” that narcotics officers were “upset” with Doty, he said.
Erickson denies claim
Called by Doty’s attorneys as an adverse witness, Erickson denied participating in any scheme to entrap the councilman.
The officer stopped Doty after the councilman left a reception at a local restaurant for local leaders and Tennessee Valley Authority officials marking the 60th anniversary of Tupelo becoming the first TVA city.
Erickson testified he observed Doty apparently speeding, and after pulling his unmarked car behind Doty’s pickup truck watched him run a stop sign and traffic light. He also said after stopping Doty he smelled alcohol and called in a Metro DUI unit.
The decision to take Doty to jail was not his, Erickson said. He said a deputy sheriff, Dan Dillard, who conducted two breath tests at the scene, ordered that Doty be taken to the police department for a third test on the “big machine.” Doty registered 0.079 there.
Attorneys also unveiled a report allegedly made by Erickson just prior to Doty’s arrest, a document that has been missing almost two years. Erickson said he found it Monday in an unindexed file at his office.
The 23-word report ostensibly verifies the officer’s testimony that coincidence put him at a service station across the street from the restaurant at the time Doty left the reception.
Erickson spent up to an hour at the service station, where he said he had gone to check the address and write the report regarding an earlier investigation. He said he also had a long conversation there with another policeman regarding police department motorcycles, although in Doty’s traffic trial in July 1994 Erickson testified he couldn’t recall seeing another officer at the service station.
Erickson also said he could not recall police officers ever criticizing Doty, although he remembered discussions by fellow officers about the councilman’s complaints.
“There were officers that talked about Mr. Doty, but I tried not to get involved … I did not get involved in that,” Erickson said. “They were describing the information (that appeared) in the newspaper.”
Doty claims his arrest constituted a violation of his First Amendment speech rights, arrest without probably cause, false imprisonment, violation of traffic law procedures, and violation of city arrest procedures.
The trial continues today in Aberdeen.