By Floyd Ingram/Chickasaw Journal
HOUSTON – The case of an Okolona police officer stopped by the Mississippi Highway Patrol in December will probably be heard in Chickasaw County Justice Court in the next few weeks.
Chickasaw County Justice Court Judge Garry Turner and Chickasaw County Circuit Court Judge Andrew Howorth met last week to iron out details of appointing a special magistrate to hear the case against Okolona Assistant Police Chief Romona Robertson.
The probable cause hearing that led to formal charges against Robertson was held in Howorth’s court and bound over to Turner’s court. Turner recused himself last month from hearing the case citing a conflict of interest.
“I routinely hear cases that are brought before my court by the Okolona Police Department,” said Turner. “I didn’t feel comfortable presiding over this trial and asked Judge Howorth to appoint a special magistrate to hear the case. I think that will be best for everyone involved.”
Robertson’s attorney Ed Lancaster entered four not guilty pleas in Turner’s court Feb. 21, to charges of DUI, speeding, failure to comply with a law enforcement officer and possession of a controlled substance.
Lancaster also asked for a jury trial on the misdemeanor charges at that time.
“There is a question of if there will be jury trial due to the nature of the charges,” said Turner. “But that will be determined by the Special Magistrate appointed in this case.”
Turner said Howorth will now pick a sitting Justice Court Judge from a surrounding county to hear the case in a Houston courtroom. Turner said the case should be heard in mid April.
In Justice Court cases the judge typically hears evidence and rules on the innocence or guilt of the person involved. Attorney’s can request a jury trial in Justice Court with the jury deciding the guilt or innocence and the judge imposing the sentence.
Turner has said the Chickasaw County Circuit Clerk would be asked to draw a pool of between 75 to 100 names with six jurors to be selected by the court.
Turner said all six jurors must vote to convict or acquit to render a verdict. He said should a second jury be unable to render a verdict, the case would be dismissed.
The charges against Robertson were filed in District 1 Justice Court on Feb. 5, by Mississippi Highway Patrolman James Burrow. Burrow and Trooper Cindy Searcy stopped Robertson on Dec. 7, on Highway 32 just east of its intersection with Highway 15.
If Robertson had entered a guilty plea in February on all four counts, she could have faced fines of $1,090 and court costs of $809.50. She also could have been suspended or fired from the Okolona Police Department.
Since the case involves charges being brought against a law enforcement officer, it is being prosecuted by Chickasaw County District Attorney Ben Creekmore and Chickasaw County Prosecuting Attorney Elizabeth Fox Ausbern.
Two videos shot from Burrow’s dashboard camera were shown at the Feb. 4 probable cause hearing. Another video shot by Trooper 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 Robertson initially asked to take a blood test to prove she was not under the influence. Both officers said Robertson refused the test when they took her to the hospital.
Lancaster has repeatedly said he will not comment on what the videos do or do not show.
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 an unmarked pill bottle in the driver’s door pocket of the patrol car.
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, appeared at the February probable cause hearing in uniform.
Robertson has continued to work at the Okolona Police Department since she was arrested.