Civil rights advocates march to support woman facing prison time - WMC Action News 5 - Memphis, Tennessee

Civil rights advocates march to support woman facing prison time

Heather Ellis Heather Ellis

By Lori Brown - bio | email | Twitter | Facebook

KENNETT, MO (WMC-TV) - It's a case from the small town of Kennett, Missouri that has now gained national attention. This week Heather Ellis will stand trial, on charges some say are rooted in racism.

Civil rights activists across the nation are hoping to help a woman who faces up to 15 years in prison for allegedly assaulting a police officer. People passionate about Heather Ellis's case met at the National Civil Rights Museum in Memphis Monday morning, and took off on a 1-hundred mile drive to Kennett.

In Kennett they lead a march that stretched from the Walmart where the whole thing started, to the courthouse, where it may soon draw to a close.

Marchers wound through the city's streets chanting "No justice, no peace." The Southern Christian Leadership Conference sees Heather Ellis as a woman who was slapped with serious charges with potentially heavy penalties because she is black.

"We want to make it very clear, racism and bigotry is thick in this city," a supporter of Ellis said at the march.

A small group of people protesting the march waved confederate flags with crosses on them. But the marchers, marched on, singing "We Shall Overcome".

Ellis, a college student with plans to go to Medical School got into an argument at Walmart three years ago. It escalated and police were called. Walmart's surveillance cameras were rolling, but since the tape is evidence, neither attorney will release it before the trial. Ellis's attorney says the tape doesn't prove anything, prosecutors say it does.

The police report says Ellis was "yelling and cursing", threatened an officer, and "resisted arrest".

The original prosecutor pulled himself off the case after intense pressure from Ellis's supporters. Stephen Sokoloff says the claims he's a racist are outrageous.

"Somebody who believes something like that, they're going to believe it regardless of what the facts are," Sokoloff said. "I think if you talk to people who know me, and you look at my record, you'll see that's not correct."

Sokoloff says he gave Ellis an opportunity to have all of the charges against her dismissed, in exchange for an admission that she assaulted the officers. It's an admission that would never go on her record if she didn't break the law for a year. Ellis, who says she is the victim of assault, didn't take the deal.

Sokoloff says it is not even in the remote realm of possibilities that Ellis would get sentenced to the maximum 15 years. The minimum sentence could be as little as a one dollar fine.

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