Antonio Bell says he is in jail until March 17 under a plea agreement that has him admitting to two misdemeanor counts of retaliation against a judge or officer.
But the statute under which he was charged — and to which he pleaded — is irrelevant to the facts of the case because it envisions retaliation in official capacity, not a judge’s private and personal capacity.
By David Tulis / Noogaradio 1240 AM 101.1 FM
Mr. Bell indicated confusion about the agreement in a case prompted by a midnight encounter in front of the Hixson Wal-Mart market with David Bales, who during daylight hours serves as judge in Hamilton County sessions court.
Mr. Bell gave an interview Friday at Silverdale workhouse with a deacon at Brainerd Hills Presbyterian church. He said he did not know which of his acts constituted the retaliation against judge or officer charges.
Attempts last week to reach Judge Bales — through his office by phone and by personal visit and through social media — were not successful.
Friday Mr. Bell expressed despair about his options. He had been charged with five counts in what he and a witness say was a peaceful encounter among Mr. Bell, Mr. Bales and at least three city police officers — except for exaggerated and threatening tones that rose from the lips of the officers. Police and district attorney Neal Pinkston accuse him of assault, aggressive panhandling, disorderly conduct, and two counts of retaliation against a judge or police officer.
Admitting guilt to avoid prolonged woe
Mr. Bell says he pleaded guilty to the retaliation charges “as the only way to get out. I figured that was the easiest way out, so I pled to it.” His sentence includes time served since Feb. 12.
He says he has already on his record a felony assault case which is a blight against his status as job applicant. One of the biggest hindrances to employment is the state, whose law enforcement mechanism gives people criminal records that prove a barrier to hiring.
Mr. Bell describes the encounter with police and a man in the parking lot of the Wal-Mart about midnight on Feb. 11.
Claims of assault and intimidation are far-fetched, according to remarks by an eyewitness and Mr. Bell.
In the interview, Mr. Bell says one retaliation charge may have come from the fact that he talked with an officer and verbally resisted a threat of violence. “Don’t eye-f— me, either,” the officer said, according to an affidavit, “or I’m gonna smack the taste out your mouth.”
Mr. Bell questioned the officer’s authority to strike him. “I guess you three are going to play the dirty cop game in the parking lot?” he says he stated. Mr. Bell says he asked one officer if he would be willing to testify against the other officer who’d made a threat. This request, Mr. Bell supposes, might be the basis of the retaliation claim, but he said he is confused.
Mr. Bell said he had been cleared to depart the parking lot by a first officer on the scene. Mr. Bell was being given a ride by Tarah Melvin, the eyewitness, a stranger who was concerned for Mr. Bell’s welfare during an encounter with police.
But other police arrived and Mr. Bell and Mrs. Melvin were detained more than 15 minutes.
Presumably, the other retaliation charge arises from conversation Mr. Bell had with the man in the parking lot in a BMW. Apparently, the man in the parking lot was David Bales, a sessions court judge.
Mr. Bell said that the exchange with the man in the parking lot, Mr. Bales was not present in his capacity as a judge. Mr. Bell did not know the identity of Mr. Bales.
Mr. Bell said he offered money to the man if he would take him home, to an address on Brighton Lane where his sister Angelica resides.
“I don’t have any money to give, but if you need a job, I give out jobs,” Mr. Bales said, according to Mr. Bell.
Mr. Bell said that he told the man he needed a ride, not a job. “I have a job; don’t you see my Arby’s cap?”
Nothing further was said — Mr. Bales ducked into the store. Mr. Bell says he did not ask the man for money.
Mr. Bell also says he had an encounter on the question of panhandling with the manager of the store, and that the manager spoke to him and seems to have accepted his answer that he was not asking anybody for money.
Mr. Bell’s statement about not asking for money generally is contradicted by an affidavit from Mrs. Melvin, who said Mr. Bell asked her for money.
Begging ordinance has high standard for ‘aggressive’
It is questionable whether Mr. Bell’s actions meet the test of the aggressive panhandling ordinance, which reserves that charge to those who make threats, block movement of a person or touch that person.
The city ordinance standard for aggressive panhandling is “[t]o approach or speak to a person in such a manner as would cause a reasonable person to believe that the person is being threatened with: 1. Imminent bodily injury; or 2. The commission of a criminal act upon the person or another person, or upon property in the person’s immediate possession; b. To persist in panhandling after the person solicited has given a negative response; c. To block, either individually or as part of a group of persons, the passage of a solicited person; d. To touch a solicited person without the person’s consent. *** f. To engage in conduct that would reasonably be construed as intended to intimidate, compel or force a solicited person to make a donation” (city ordinance, 25-39(a)(3)).
The prosecution, it appears, overreaches the apparent facts of the encounter by charging Mr. Bell with aggressive panhandling.
The charges to which Mr. Bell agreed to plead guilty are that of retaliation against a judge, officer. It’s not clear that Mr. Bell knows what the statute says and he did not indicate that the attorney with whom he spoke from the public defender’s office described the test and the requirements for retaliation. The facts of State vs. Bell do not appear to be remotely near those of the statute.
Boiled down, the statute to which Mr. Bell pleads guilty applies to threats and retaliation pursuant to a court case.
“A person commits the offense of retaliation for past action who harms or threatens to harm a witness at an official proceeding, judge, district attorney general *** by any unlawful act in retaliation for anything the witness, judge *** did in an official capacity *** .”
Neither Mr. Bell, Mr. Bales nor the three officers had had any engagement with Mr. Bell in the nature of “retaliation.” Also absent in the case is mens rea, intent, intentionality to advance or somehow harass an individual or a police officer.
Mr. Bell says when he arrived at the lockup he was met by six to nine officers because he was deemed “an aggressive one.”
The system which brings every defendant to plead guilty discourages careful police work and careful police reporting, and effectively subsidizes lies and carelessness by officers. It also prevents the laws as they’re written from being tested on appeal through court trial and appeal. If everybody pleads, the law is not put to the test and refined, clarified and corrected.
Mr. Bell’s brother, Antwuane, in Nashville; his mother, Veronica Jordan, also in Nashville, say they are concerned for Mr. Bell’s welfare in jail. Antwuane fears his jailed brother may have acted without proper legal advice and says the brother caved under the state custom of charge stacking and intimidation. Mr. Bell, whom is separated and who has three children in Nashville whom he regularly visits, has been homeless. But he has been staying with a sister, Angelica Blair of 4843 Brighton Lane in the Hixson area. Before sentencing he had been under a high F$32,000 bond.