Woman Faces Prison Time After Cutting in Line at Walmart

Jackie McPherson, WLMT-TV (Memphis), November 16, 2009

A big Bluff City rally for Heather Ellis. She’s the Missouri woman facing 15 years in prison for cutting in line at Walmart.

Ellis is charged with assaulting an officer, resisting arrest and disturbing the peace. She claims she did nothing wrong and that she is actually the victim in this case.

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Ellis goes on trial this week in Kennett, Missouri–about a two hour drive north of Memphis.

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Prosecutors say Heather cut in line, and then when called out for it, she caused a major disturbance at the store.

Nathaniel Ellis says that’s not true, and that his daughter was the one called racial slurs by a store clerk and officers.

“They just indict her and launch an all-out attack to destroy her character and assassinate her future” says Ellis. “This is her choice, not to admit fault in an area where she hasn’t done anything and so we’re standing by her.”

Hundreds of others are also standing by Heather.

On the social networking site Facebook, there are groups in support of her, and on Monday November 16th a rally is planned outside the Kennett Walmart.

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Ellis’ family says they have been threatened by the Ku Klux Klan since speaking publicly about Heather’s case. They’ve asked the U.S. Department of Justice to get involved.


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Witnesses have told authorities that Ellis cut in front of waiting customers at the Walmart in Kennett on Jan. 6, 2007, shoved merchandise already placed on a conveyor belt out of the way, and became belligerent when confronted, according to court filings.

Ellis maintains she was merely joining her cousin, whose checkout line was moving more quickly. She claimed in a written complaint to the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People that she was then pushed by a white customer, hassled by store employees, called racial slurs and physically mistreated by Kennett police officers.

Police say in court documents that Ellis refused requests to calm down and leave the property, allegedly kicking one’s shin and splitting another’s lip while resisting arrest. Her trial on charges of assaulting police officers, resisting arrest and disturbing the peace begins Wednesday in Dunklin County Circuit Court. Syracuse, N.Y.-based Your Black World Coalition is organizing a Monday rally in Kennett.

A college student in New Orleans at the time of her arrest, the 24-year-old Ellis now teaches in Louisiana, where she is engaged to a state trooper. She has said she feels trapped by “small-town politics” in Kennett, where her family lives.

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The group subsequently held a rally in Kennett. Before the June 13 event began, police officers found threatening letters the size of business cards scattered along the route that said the Ku Klux Klan had paid a visit and “the next visit will not be social.”

Dunklin County Prosecutor Stephen Sokoloff said the cards were removed and the source investigated but never discovered. He said he doubts the cards actually were from the KKK; he knows of no KKK presence in the area. A call to the KKK headquarters was not answered.

As for Ellis’ allegations of mistreatment by law enforcement, Sokoloff said he’s “seen absolutely no evidence of any kind, apart from her statements, that those things occurred.” {snip}

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Ellis’ written account to the NAACP describes she [sic] and her cousin getting into separate checkout lanes before Ellis switched into the faster-moving line. The woman behind them had placed items on the conveyor belt, and Ellis alleged the woman pushed her when she tried to put her own items down.

Witnesses instead told police that Ellis shoved the woman’s merchandise back, according to court filings.

Ellis wrote that a security officer and manager were called over and that although Ellis said she wanted to pay, the manager yelled at her to leave the store. Police were called and arrived.

Officers eventually followed her to the parking lot, she said, using racial slurs and telling her to go back to the ghetto. As her aunt and uncle drove into the parking lot, Ellis said, the officers “jumped” on her even though she said she was not resisting.

Officer A.W. Fisher wrote in a probable cause statement that Ellis was given “every opportunity” to comply with officers and leave the property. He said she used an expletive in telling him she would beat him if he put his hands on her.

Fisher said he then told Ellis she was under arrest, but she would not stop fighting while being handcuffed.

Following her arrest, Ellis alleged, she was thrown against doors on the way into jail and an officer later twisted her shirt with his knuckle to choke her while she was in custody.

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