Editor’s Note: Watch Randi Kaye’s full report tonight on Anderson Cooper 360 at 10pm ET.
Randi Kaye| BIO
Is it a classic case of “he said, she said,” or is it a brutal case of racism? Whatever it is, it may land a Missouri woman, a preacher’s daughter who has never been in trouble with the law before, in jail.
It all apparently started at a Walmart store in Kennett, Missouri where according to police, customer Heather Ellis had cut in line to pay for her items. What followed is at the heart of a court case that may send Heather Ellis to jail for as many as 15 years!
Let me first say Ms. Ellis has pleaded not guilty. But here’s how police tell it: officers say they were called to the store after Ellis caused a “disturbance” at the cash register by “yelling and cursing.” Officers say when they tried to get her to leave the store, she turned and yelled at them, “I ain’t going nowhere until I get my (expletive) change back” but that even after she got her change, she continued to be “belligerent.” The lead officer says they tried to get her to remain calm and leave in a peaceful manner and told her they’d arrest her if she refused. That is when the lead officer says Ellis “issued a threat to assault” and said if the officer put their hands on her “she was going to beat my (expletive).” Well, it turned ugly according to police, who say she became “combative and began fighting.” The officers say Ellis “continued to fight, yell and curse” and was “completely out of control.” They say she “resisted arrest” and “stiffened her body” when they tried to put her in the police car. Read the full police report here.
Ellis is now charged with resisting arrest, assaulting a police officer and disturbing the peace.
But before you make up your mind what happened her... keep in mind that Heather Ellis is African-American and the officers involved are all white. Ms. Ellis isn’t talking, but those working on her behalf say she believes the charges are racially motivated. I spoke with John Chasnoff from the ACLU who has met with the Ellis family and he describes Ms. Ellis as “a very well put together young woman, very articulate, and very clear in her story about what happened.” He says, “She’s as sweet as can be and comes from a very religious background.” When I asked if she cursed at the police officers, the ACLU said, “that’s not language that I would expect Heather to use. According to her she was lifted off the ground by police and wasn’t’ in control of her body. She said they were forcing her to flail around but it was completely involuntary on her part.” Mr. Chasnoff of the ACLU says Heather Ellis told him she was “trying to defuse the situation and it escalated.” Why does Heather Ellis think race is the motive here? The ACLU’s Chasnoff told me that Ellis told him, “as she came out of store they followed her with a series of racial remarks, that included the N word and everything you can imagine.” Unfortunately, neither the police or the prosecutor will say anything more than what is in the police report. I should mention, there is store surveillance video but those tapes are not being released. The ACLU representative we spoke with said he viewed the tape and called it “inconclusive”. He said the tape only shows one angle and the family said there were more cameras in the parking lot that may show more. Where are those tapes? That’s what we want to know.
While Heather Ellis awaits her trial, which is supposed to start next month, she is working as a school teacher in Louisana. She also happens to be engaged to be married to a state trooper.
What side of this “he said, she said” debate are you buying? Would love to know...
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