Miss. mayor faces felony charges for crime tactics

September 16, 2006|By Richard Fausset | Richard Fausset,Los Angeles Times

Frank Melton, the flamboyant, gun-toting mayor of Jackson, Miss., was indicted along with two police bodyguards yesterday on numerous felony charges stemming from his controversial crime-fighting tactics.

Last year, Melton won a landslide election and became Jackson's second black mayor after running on a get-tough-on-crime platform. He could be sentenced to a maximum of 68 years in jail if convicted of all of the charges, Hinds County District Attorney Faye Peterson said.

Mississippi Attorney General Jim Hood, whose office took part in the investigation, called on Melton to resign yesterday in a televised news conference. He said he would offer Melton a plea deal if he left office.

But Melton's attorney, Dale Danks Jr., said the mayor would not resign and called the indictment "politically motivated," according to the Jackson Clarion-Ledger.

Most of the charges arose from an Aug. 26 incident in which Melton, two policemen and a group of young men hired by the mayor allegedly destroyed an inner-city duplex during a purported crime sweep, according to the indictment and a source close to the investigation. The source said some of the young men are suspected of using sledgehammers to destroy the property.

A state grand jury handed down indictments against Melton and the two officers, Marcus Wright and Michael Recio, yesterday, charging each of them with malicious mischief, house burglary, two counts of conspiracy and one count of directing or causing felony to be committed by a minor.

Melton -- who was previously warned about carrying concealed weapons by the state atorney gneral's office -- was also charged with illegally carrying a concealed handgun into a local law school, a park and a church.

Melton -- a former TV executive who briefly headed the state narcotics bureau -- has polarized residents with his unorthodox take on crime fighting. He has personally led dozens of manhunts and drug searches with officers from the Jackson Police Department. In many cases, Melton has carried a pistol and traveled in a specialized RV outfitted for SWAT team operations. In the past he has also brought along young men from impoverished neighborhoods, who Melton says he has hired to help clean the communities up.

His tactics elicited criticism from civil rights groups who say he has unfairly targeted minorities and possibly violated due-process rights. Others said his crime sweeps went beyond the bounds of his power as mayor and urged him to focus on the more civilian-minded side of the job.

But the mayor brushed aside those concerns, arguing that the old ways had allowed crime to fester in the poverty-racked city of 180,000. In 2004, the year before his election, the city's crime rate was about 50 percent higher than the national average, according to FBI statistics.

Peterson, the district attorney, said her office is investigating an incident that occurred a few hours after the house was destroyed, in which a bar owner was allegedly involved in an altercation with members of Melton's entourage and allegedly beaten.

Melton and the two policemen were booked and released on bond yesterday and will likely be arraigned next week, Peterson said. A police spokesman would not say whether the officers remained on the force and referred queries to the mayor's office, which did not respond to calls.

Richard Fausset writes for the Los Angeles Times.

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