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Judge Rules In Favor Of County In Federal Suit

By David Howell

OXFORD – A federal judge issued summary judgment in favor of Yalobusha County in a  lawsuit filed by former Civil Defense Director Cecil Harrison.

    In an opinion filed Tuesday, Judge Sharion Aycock dismissed the lawsuit citing that Harrison could not prove allegations that the county supervisors and Sheriff “Lance” Humphreys had violated his First Amendment rights.

    Harrison filed the lawsuit in September, 2009, three months after he was fired from a job he had for 11 years. The case had been set for trial on November 7 in the U.S. District Court in Oxford.    

    Summary judgment is warranted when evidence reveals no genuine dispute regarding any material fact, according to Aycock’s ruling.

    “The facts simply did not support any of the allegations,” Board Attorney John Crow explains. “My opinion from the beginning was that the claim was bogus,” Crow added.

    Harrison’s lawsuit alleged he was terminated because he opened an establishment, the Pit Row Grill, after Yalobusha County voters legalized the sale of beer and light wine  following a Dec. 11, 2007, vote. Harrison alleged that he was targeted and terminated because he favored the sale of beer in the election.

    “(Harrison) submitted no evidence that the Yalobusha County Board of Supervisors were made aware of his alleged political involvement,” Aycock wrote in the 26-page  opinion.

    If fact, Aycock included a sentence from Harrison’s deposition in which he stated that county officials did not know whether he was for or against the sale of alcohol until he applied for a permit to open the business on February 25, 2008 – more than two months after the election.

    Harrison’s suit also accused Sheriff Lance Humphreys and the Yalobusha County Sheriff’s department of targeting his business. Harrison alleged that  the department set  up roadblocks in close proximity to his establishment to intimidate and harass his customers.                 However in Tuesday’s ruling, Aycock also wrote that Harrison admitted, several times, in his deposition testimony that these allegations were only his “speculation.”

    Harrison also claimed that the sheriff’s department maliciously pursued gambling charges against him. This claim was also refuted by evidence, according to Aycock, who writes that Harrison admitted to a confidential informant working for the department that there was a weekly poker tournament held at the establishment with a $10 buy in.

    Crow said the county incurred $15,000 in expenses stemming from the lawsuit, a $10,000 deductible for the law liability insurance policy and a $5,000 deductible in the county’s general liability insurance policy.

    Crow also credited the work of Daniel Coker Horton and Bell PA, the firm retained by the county’s insurance provider to defend the county.

    “We had good counsel, Silas McCharen did an excellent job,” Crow said.

    Harrison has 30 days to appeal the ruling.

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