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Mayor Indicted for Anti-Crime Tactics

Frank Melton's felony charges stem from his get-tough searches in Jackson, Miss.

September 16, 2006|Richard Fausset | Times Staff Writer

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

Last year, Melton won a landslide election after running on a get-tough-on-crime platform. He now faces up to 68 years in jail if convicted of all of the charges, Hinds County Dist. Atty. Faye Peterson said.

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

"Maybe this is the point where the city of Jackson has kind of hit bottom, and we can move on from here," Hood said.

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, the two police officers and a group of young men in his entourage 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 were suspected of using sledgehammers to destroy the property.

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

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

Since his first day in office, 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 Jackson police officers.

In many cases, Melton has carried a pistol and traveled in an RV outfitted for SWAT team operations. He has also brought along poor young men, whom Melton says he has hired to help clean up impoverished neighborhoods.

Melton is the city's second black mayor, but his tactics have elicited criticism from civil rights groups that say he has unfairly targeted minorities and possibly violated due-process rights. Others have said his crime sweeps have gone 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 crime had been allowed 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% higher than the national average, according to FBI statistics. "The normal way of doing things hasn't yielded results," Melton said in a recent interview with The Times.

This month, an FBI spokesperson told the Jackson Clarion-Ledger that recent actions by city officials had raised concerns in the bureau, but would not say whether it was investigating Melton. FBI agents in Jackson were unavailable for comment Friday.

Peterson, the district attorney, said her office was continuing to investigate 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.

Melton and the two policemen were booked and released on bond Friday, and will probably be arraigned next week, Peterson said. Jackson Police Chief Shirlene Anderson said in a statement Friday that the officers had been reassigned within the department.

Melton was roundly criticized by the City Council this week. The Clarion-Ledger reported that Councilman Leslie B. McLemore, who is black, called for Melton's resignation, comparing his sweeps to those of a white former mayor, Allen C. Thompson, who used a tank to intimidate civil rights activists in the 1960s.

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