Judge accused of racial slurs at flea market
Wednesday, May 28, 2014 1:00 PM
CANTON - An affidavit filed by the family of a 20-year-old learning-disabled man accuses a Madison Justice Court judge of assaulting him while using racial slurs at the Canton Flea Market earlier this month.
The affidavit includes descriptions from two eye-witnesses who say Justice Court Judge Bill Weisenberger slapped a young black male while using a racial slur.
A report, which includes the sworn testimony of two Tuscaloosa, Ala., vendors who attended the flea market, says the young man was hit and called names, including the "n" word on May 8.
Cathy Hendrix, a vendor at the flea market, and her sister, Tammy Westbrook, both say Rivers approached their booth looking for work. According their sworn affidavit, he told them he wanted to earn enough money to buy a bicycle.
Both witnesses said Weisenberger approached Rivers after they told him they didn't have any work for him when the alleged assault occurred.
Canton Mayor Arnel Bolden said Tuesday that the Canton Police Department conducted its investigation and turned the findings over to District Attorney Michael Guest and said the report will go to a grand jury.
"Our administration's duty is to protect the citizens of Canton, especially those among us who are not capable of protecting themselves," Bolden said.
"That said, we are taking these allegations very seriously, and have conducted a thorough investigation of the incident."
It's unclear why Weisenberger was not arrested, as he was not acting in his law-enforcement capacity and thus not subject to a probable-cause hearing, which is standard with teachers and law enforcement officials prior to an arrest.
Madison County Sheriff Randy Tucker said Wednesday that he had several off-duty sheriff's deputies moonlighting for a private security company at the event, but that Weisenberger is not currently a sworn reserve deputy and was not there in any official capacity.
Bolden also said Weisenberger was not working for the Canton Police Department at the time of the incident.
Former Canton Mayor William Truly, who now serves as the head of the town's local NAACP office, described Weisenberger's alleged actions at a press conference Monday morning.
"As reported by witnesses, the man was allegedly slapped, kicked and called nigger by Madison County Judge Bill Weisenberger, who at the time was moonlighting as a private security guard," Truly said.
"The force of the assault knocked (him) to the ground. Witnesses allege that judge Weisenberger then placed his hand on his gun holster on his side and shouted to Eric 'Run nigger, run.'"
Weisenberger, who has formerly served as a law enforcement officer and Madison County's emergency operations director, could face multiple charges, including assault.
Even if the resulting charge is a misdemeanor, that charge could be enhanced under Mississippi's hate crimes statute, which considers the victim's "perceived race, color, religion, ethnicity, ancestry, national origin or gender" as sufficient motivation for a hate crime.
According to the state's judiciary code, Justice Court judges have jurisdiction over small claims civil cases involving amounts of $3,500 or less, misdemeanor criminal cases and any traffic offense that occurs outside a municipality. Justice Court judges may also conduct bond hearings and preliminary hearings in felony criminal cases and issue search warrants.
Darlene Ballard, executive director of Mississippi's Judicial Commission, said if the allegations against Weisenberger are substantiated, his actions will have violated "multiple canons" of the state Judicial Code of Conduct.
"Generally, if we receive a complaint, the commission would review it and they would determine what we should do with that complaint," Ballard said Wednesday. "A lot of times, they will determine we need to conduct an investigation. It often depends on how substantiated the allegations are."
Ballard added that she hasn't been able to talk to anyone in the prosecution of the case, but that the commission will take up the issue at its next regularly scheduled meeting on June 13.
Truly is not willing to be as patient. On Monday, he called for Weisenberger to step down from his position immediately.
"He routinely hears and rules on matters involving African-American, Hispanics and other minorities," Truly said. "His expressed racial prejudice - an unprovoked assault on a grown African-American adult - demonstrates an unfitness to serve as a judicial officer.
"No citizen should have to face justice before a judge that holds just a high degree of racial animus and hatred."
Multiple attempts to contact Weisenberger have been unsuccessful. A clerk at Justice Court said the four judges rotate and Weisenberger is not scheduled to appear on the bench until June 16.