A jury in Natchez, Miss., yesterday convicted a Natchez Police Department officer of violating the civil rights of an arrestee by stealing credit and debit cards from the arrestee. The officer, Dewayne Johnson, 33, will be sentenced on July 12, 2011.
The evidence at trial showed that while Johnson drove a man under arrest to jail, he stopped the patrol car and stole credit and debit cards from the arrestee in his custody. Johnsonâ€™s cousin, Patricia A. Wilson, testified at trial and admitted that Johnson had given one of the stolen cards to her to use for personal purchases. Wilson further testified that Johnson had used one of the stolen cards to buy sneakers at retail stores in Natchez and that he later admitted to her that he had tried to use a second stolen card. Evidence at trial showed that the cards were used at a gas station, restaurants and retail stores in Natchez and Vidalia, La. Wilson, 34, of Ferriday, La., had previously pleaded guilty to conspiring with Johnson to commit identity theft, credit card fraud and bank fraud.
â€œEvery community must be able to rely on their law enforcement officers to serve and protect, and Officer Johnson violated that public trust when he broke the law he had pledged to uphold,â€ said Thomas E. Perez, Assistant Attorney General for the Civil Rights Division. â€œThe department will aggressively prosecute any officer who violates the Constitution.â€
â€œThis guilty verdict should not reflect negatively on law enforcement or the Natchez Police Department,â€ said John Dowdy, U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of Mississippi. â€œThere are thousands of law enforcement officers who maintain the highest level of integrity and professionalism as they put their lives on the line every day, but when a cop goes bad and crosses the line, like this defendant, then they will be prosecuted and punished just like the criminals they arrest every day.â€
Johnson and a fellow officer, Elvis Prater, 36, were also charged with civil rights offenses related to the physical abuse of two arrestees and with lying to the FBI. Johnson was also charged with conspiracy to commit identity theft, credit card fraud and bank fraud. The jury acquitted Prater on one abuse count and failed to reach a verdict on the remaining counts. Retrial of both officers will begin on June 13, 2011.
The case was investigated by the FBI and the Mississippi State Office of the Attorney General, and was prosecuted by trial attorneys Erin Aslan and Kevonne Small of the Justice Departmentâ€™s Civil Rights Division and Assistant U.S. Attorney Glenda Haynes of the U.S. Attorneyâ€™s Office for the Southern District of Mississippi.