ABERDEEN • Chief Judge Sharion Aycock forced the press and the gallery to leave the courtroom for more than a half-hour Thursday morning during a wrongful termination lawsuit.
Citing what she called uncomfortable, sensitive and potentially prejudicial testimony, Aycock cleared the U.S. District courtroom before allowing the jury to hear attorneys question Tupelo police officer Jay Marshall on the stand.
The Daily Journal formally protested the judge forcing the press to leave during open court.
Marshall was on the witness stand for 38 minutes while the press was barred. For at least a portion of that time, the jury was returned to the courtroom to hear testimony that was excluded from the press. It was only after court went into a recess that the press and the rest of the audience were allowed to return to the courtroom.
Marshall is a key defense witness in Tupelo’s case. He claims that former officer Jennifer Baker told him she was going to start targeting the rich and the elderly in order to get people to complain to City Hall about the police department’s ticket writing.
Baker worked for the Tupelo Police Department for almost four years and claims that her 2017 termination was in retaliation for her opposition of the department’s ticket writing policy and her speaking out about officers not being paid overtime. She is asking for reinstatement as well as minimal monetary damages.
Marshall was the first witness to take the stand during the trial’s third day. After less than 10 minutes of introductory testimony about his tenure at TPD, Aycock sent the jury out when Baker’s attorney Jim Waide brought up an anonymous letter and allegations that Marshall was threatened and intimidated by patrol division commander Capt. Tim Bell.
Aycock and attorneys for both sides discussed for more than 30 minutes in open court how to proceed.
Both the anonymous letter and Marshall’s alleged conversation with Baker had already been brought up in court. Waide wanted to bring up the content of the letter in order to question Marshall’s veracity as a witness.