Sheriff McGee, Chief Deputy Bolton testify in federal court

Sheriff McGee, Chief Deputy Bolton testify in federal court
Forrest County Sheriff Billy McGee, right, and Chief Deputy Charles Bolton leave federal court in Hattiesburg./Photo credit: WDAM

HATTIESBURG, MS (WDAM) - Attorneys for plaintiff Rhonda D. Lott ended day two of the proceedings on their 10th witness, but have not rested their case yet.

Proceedings began Tuesday morning at 9 a.m. with cross examination of Lott, who was questioned about multiple write-ups and an incident that occurred at a nightclub, "Our Place Bar & Grill".

Sgt. Andrea Estrada also took the stand, delivering testimony regarding write-ups, Facebook posts and department policy regarding where employees are allowed to be.

At one point Monday, Estrada and Lott's interaction was described as a "very personal friendship", but that was not the case Tuesday, during Estrada's testimony.

Statements were made Monday regarding Estrada and Lott swapping birthday gifts, since their birthday was only two days apart and they were such good friends.

After Lott gave a gift to Estrada… "I went home and found a gift I didn't want and re-gifted it to her," Estrada said.

Estrada was also questioned a phone call between her and Chief Deputy Charles Bolton regarding inmate Samuel Lindsey voting in the DuPree v. Ware election trial.

"I don't have any bearing with that trial, I could care less," Estrada said.

Estrada was questioned if she watched the news or anything about the election challenge and Samuel Lindsey.

"I have anxiety, news makes my anxiety level rise," Estrada said.

Estrada and Lott's attorney Jim Waide III went back and forth regarding the phone call between Bolton and Estrada.

When questioned how Samuel Lindsey was let out to go vote, Estrada said, "I have no idea."

Crystal Easterling, a correctional officer at the sheriff's department, testified about an incident that occurred off duty at Our Place Bar & Grill.

This incident occurred at former employee Andre Cooley's going away party, and involved multiple jail employees being suspended, and was one of the alleged reasons Lott was fired.

"I didn't consider it a sheriff's department matter," Easterling said. "I just wanted to give (Estrada) a heads up that something had occurred, I didn't want anything to spill over into the workplace."

Easterling was asked if she felt used during the course of all this.

"A lot of this has been blown out of proportion," Easterling said.

Donnell Brannon, an 18-year veteran of the sheriff's department and the jail administrator, took the stand next.

Brannon testified that he has thrown away write-ups, including one in question regarding Lott that came from Estrada.

Brannon was questioned about how an inmate was able to go vote, and if he conducted an investigation into how and why it happened.

"Even though you are the jail administrator, the top official other than the sheriff and Chief Bolton, you didn't ask or do anything," Waide said.

"No, I never even looked into it, I never was asked to look into it," Brannon said.

Sgt. Joseph Coorley, a 10-year veteran, and a jail facility supervisor took the stand next.

Coorley testified to write-ups that were given to Lott, and read some of his deposition from a previous interview regarding statements he made about supervisors in the jail.

Bolton's testimony:

Chief Deputy Charles Bolton, who has worked for the department for 38 years, was the next witness called to the stand.

Bolton was immediately questioned about helping the sheriff campaign and how absentee ballots were delivered to the jail during the Hattiesburg mayoral election.

"Ballots were being delivered to the jail, it wasn't an allegation, it was true, they were delivered by the United States Postal Service," Bolton said. "It's a law, its legal… the law doesn't restrict how they vote."

Bolton and Waide went back and forth on the process of who told them it was OK, and where the rules/law came from.

Bolton was also asked about his presence during the Ware v. DuPree trial.

"I'm the Chief Deputy of Forrest County, I'm at most courts," Bolton said.

Testimony delivered by Bolton in 2013 was also brought up, regarding that "(Bolton) let an inmate (Samuel Lindsey) out of jail if he would go vote for Mayor DuPree."

"I testified that was false," Bolton said. "I don't know Samuel Lindsey, in fact I was in D.C. when I read he was going to testify," Bolton said.

Bolton said, "I thought he was a deputy sheriff or something."

Bolton claimed a week or so prior to the trial that he saw a newspaper that printed the names of people who would testify in the trial.

"I didn't check any records," Bolton said. "My policy is… I didn't think we should be in any business of any of (voting)." "I mean, we not going to let the gate open and say y'all go vote and come back here (the jail) after."

It was during this testimony that Bolton said the employee who took Lindsey to go vote was Marcus Hopkins.

"Marcus Hopkins took him to vote, he told me he took him," Bolton said.

Bolton continued with long answers, even being interrupted by Judge Keith Starrett multiple times for his answers, as he continued to deny any involvement with Lindsey.

A form put into evidence, showed that the release of Lindsey was called in by someone named Melissa from the Petal Police Department.

"Did you just put this in here, knowing no one would check it, or know if there really was a Melissa at Petal PD?" Waide said.

"It was investigated by the Forrest County Sheriff's Department, it was an independent investigation ordered by Sheriff McGee," Bolton said. "Nick Calico investigated how Samuel Lindsey got released."

"Sheriff McGee had an investigation done, Nick Calico did it… I never asked the result," Bolton said.

Bolton was questioned about Lott's testimony in the trial, to which he said he watched himself.

"Estrada called me (during the testimony), said Lindsey was testifying and I hung up the phone cause I was watching it myself," Bolton said.

Bolton described how long he has dealt with inmates and people, and saying sometimes they lie, and he has lost some friends over all this.

Bolton started to cry, and was called out by Waide. A quick objection was thrown by defense attorney Will Allen.

"I never even believed anyone would believe Lindsey," Bolton said. "Lott lied about me, Lindsey lied about me too."

Bolton fired back an answer to Waide.

"Her boyfriend Mr. (Jim) Kinslow had such a strong dislike for us cause he supported Ware," Bolton said.

Judge Starrett intervened again and said he was invoking their kindergarten rule, and would tell Bolton when to answer the questions.

Bolton added that he gave Lott a job when Kinslow came and asked for a job for Lott.

McGee testimony:

Forrest County Sheriff Billy McGee took the stand as the tenth witness.

McGee admitted he was the person who fired Lott, and he told Bolton to stay out of it.

"I knew he had his feelings hurt, out of abundance of caution…. I told him to just stay away from Lott," McGee said.

McGee said that Lott was terminated for multiple incidents, including an incident at a club (Our Place Bar & Grill) and three times she was found in the kitchen at the jail.

"She was fired for a continuous pattern for abusing authority," McGee said.

This was in regards to Lott being in the kitchen three times.

"No officer prepares meals for inmates," McGee said. "The kitchen is a big deal at the Forrest County Sheriff's Department."

This comment sparked discussion into the ongoing federal investigation into the theft of food and the prosecution of two former jail employees in federal court.

McGee fired back during questioning.

"You'd have to ask the federal prosecutor, he's never told us (what it's about)," McGee said.

"Did you have any involvement in stealing of food," Waide said.

"No sir," McGee said.

The "toleration" of "a lot of conduct" was brought up with McGee.

"Tim Eubanks, he had an affair with the county prosecutor," Waide said.

"He didn't have an affair at a nightclub, it was in a private room," McGee said.

Waide questioned McGee of an ongoing affair that he is involved in, and was asked if it damaged the reputation of the sheriff's department of created a problem.

"It harmed my image," McGee said. "I asked for a divorce and she wouldn't grant it, so I started dating a woman from Hattiesburg."

McGee was questioned about firing Lott for using the word b**** when affairs were in question in the public's eye.

"If I felt strongly the other way, I would have terminated Lott, she was in an affair with a married man when she came to work for me," McGee said.

McGee was also questioned about Robert Gray, a sheriff's deputy that was involved in a fraudulent voting investigation, and charged.

McGee also answered questions regarding the termination of Cooley, who he said he fired after the third domestic dispute incident between him (Cooley) and his boyfriend.

Waide led the questioning back to Lott and the testimony she delivered in 2013.

"I was upset when I investigated the facts," McGee said. "I'll be upset until I die. I didn't fire her for giving testimony that's false. That had nothing to do with it. If I terminated her after the (2013) testimony, I knew this is where I would end up, right here (federal court)."

Trial will resume at 9 a.m. Wednesday.