(NNPA)—A former college student faces up to 15 years in prison for allegedly cutting the line at a Walmart, and the NAACP and ACLU have stepped in to generate support for her case.
Heather Ellis, 24, is charged with two felony counts of assaulting a police officer, one count of disturbing the peace, and one count of resisting arrest in connection with a January 2007 incident at a Kennett, Mo., Walmart.
Pastor Jessie Bonner, president of the Sikeston, Mo., NAACP chapter, said that Ellis, at the time a pre-med student, went to Walmart with her cousin. When checking out, he said the two split between two lines intending to consolidate their purchases with the first person to reach a cashier.
Ellis’ cousin reached a cashier first and Ellis joined her in that line. Bonner said a White woman in line behind Ellis’ cousin said Ellis was cutting the line, and pushed her. The cashier called the store’s manager, who called police.
Bonner said Ellis and her cousin were able to check out, but said Ellis was taunted by police while leaving the store. He said one officer grabbed her shirt from behind and, when she jerked away, they shoved her down, banging her head in the course of making the arrest. Bonner said Ellis was harmed at the police department as well and made to wear a jail uniform that was previously soaked in urine.
Shortly after being processed at the police station, all the charges against her were dropped, Bonner said. But a few days later, the State’s Attorney called her and said the incident would go away if she would sign a document pleading guilty to disorderly conduct. She refused and shortly afterwards he filed the charges she now faces.
However, a police affidavit obtained by the Southeast Missourian newspaper tells a very different story. According to the affidavit, officers arriving on scene allowed Ellis to leave the store, but she became increasingly hostile toward them.
“I tried to convey to Heather Ellis, as best I could, that all she had to do was leave peacefully,” the affidavit states, according to the newspaper. “However, it was incredibly and abundantly obvious that [she] had absolutely no desire and/or intention of complying…” According to the affidavit, police attempted to arrest Ellis, who became combative and struck two officers before she was handcuffed.
A rally and march to support Ellis are planned for Nov. 16 at 11 a.m. The coalition is asking anyone to come to Kennett to participate or to write letters or hold rallies in support of Ellis at their local Walmart at the designated time.
“We are looking for something online with what was done for the Jena Six,” Bonner said about the march. The group is also hoping to raise money at the event to help cover Ellis’ legal expenses.