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The Thrilla in Mississippi?

Several lawyers in north Mississippi should have a very nice Christmas if they all collect fees from a piddling case that grows day by day.

It started at an Ole Miss football game in Oxford the afternoon of Saturday, Nov. 21, 2015. Near the end of the game officers of the University of Mississippi Police Department had a confrontation with a fan that resulted in a brief scuffle.

Somebody recorded the little dust-up with a cell phone video camera. Typical of such do-it-yourself motion pictures, the results were not terrific. Over and around a constantly moving little mass of people, we see what appears to be two guys talking, one with what could be a smile, both seeming relatively under control at first.

Then the action gets more interesting as one guy appears to take a swing at the other.

The activity draws the interest of an increasing number of individuals who leap to their feet, further blocking the impromptu videographer’s view of the action. The action seems to speed up a little as a couple of other people appear to join the fray.

It turns out the combatants are an Ole Miss student named Chris Barnes and two or more cops from the New Albany Police Department, who are temporarily employed for “security” by Ole Miss.

It is impossible to tell from the amateur video what really happened. Barnes ends up in jail for a few hours. When he is released, a photograph of him seems to reveal facial trauma more severe than one might guess from the 100-second now-you-see-it, now-you-don’t video.

Chris Barnes’s wife posts the video and comments on Facebook, that always reliable, never wrong, never assumptive, purveyor of information that is the source of what most people seem to “know” about nearly everything. Mrs. Barnes claims the cops gave her husband a sound thrashing, inflicted his grievous injuries.

The Ole Miss Police Department quickly issues a statement saying ‘those cops don’t work for us,’ but then admits that the policemen were, in fact, on the payroll of the university’s police department.

The Facebook posting and its peak-a-boo video has now been seen by three quarters of a million people around the earth, and the “hits just keep on coming.” From the still-growing interest in it, one might think the battle approached the scale of the 1975 “Thrilla-In-Manila” fight between Muhammad Ali and the late Joe Frazier.

The Ole Miss cops asked the august and legendary Federal Bureau of Investigation (that’s right, the F-damn-B-I) to look into the case, and the ever helpful G-men jumped right in.

The policeman who appears to have thrown a punch or two at Barnes is New Albany Patrolman Brock White. He is placed on administrative leave, with pay, until the whole thing can be sorted out.

Amid wide-spread speculation that Barnes might sue Ole Miss, his jailers, White and Lord knows who else, Barnes lawyers up. He faces misdemeanor charges of being drunk and obnoxious or something along those lines.

Barnes and his lawyers show up for court Tuesday morning in Oxford and receive a surprise, sort of a “gotcha:” Barnes and his legal team are supposedly told that New Albany Police Officer Brock White has filed FELONY charges against Barnes, claiming Barnes had grabbed White’s shirt collar.

The office of District Attorney Ben Creekmore reportedly says it know nothing about the felony charges, and the DA is usually the person in charge of such things.

I have known several dozen police officers well in 40-plus years in the news business, and cannot recall a single one that has not had a drunk hit him — or try to — during his rookie years as a cop.

Imagine if every one of those drunks had been charged with a felony! Wouldn’t have been a judge or DA in the United States who had time to deal with serious crimes.

Every lawyer, however, would be driving a Porsche or Ferrari and have a Gulfstream of his very own.

Wednesday, October 1, 1975, sitting in the cavernous Miami Beach, Florida, Convention Hall with a kid from Brooklyn named Dennis Feola, fellow apprentice newspaper man, watching perhaps the greatest heavyweight fight ever on closed circuit TV from the Philippines: I conceived a burning desire to be a fight reporter. Bert Sugar, move on outta the way!

Finally, four decades later in a rural town in north Mississippi, my career reaches its zenith! Never say perseverance doesn’t pay off!

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