Mississippi man facing charge for making harassing calls to sheriff’s wife; man says arrest is retaliation after recent election
Published 8:07 pm Friday, December 8, 2023
A Batesville man was charged Tuesday with using a telephone to make profane, indecent, or harassing calls to Panola County Circuit Clerk Melissa Meek Phelps at the Courthouse.
James Calvin Pattridge, 47, of 101 Dickey Drive, was arrested by Sheriff’s Office deputies Tuesday evening after Municipal Judge Jay Westfaul signed a misdemeanor warrant.
Westfaul ordered that he be held at the Yalobusha County Jail instead of the Panola County facility citing a conflict of interest because Phelps is the wife of Sheriff Shane Phelps.
Pattridge was brought back to Batesville for a Thursday morning bond hearing in Municipal Court, where Westfaul released him on unsecured bond of $1,500, meaning that he was not required to post any cash to be released.
Pattridge, who had spent three days incarcerated on a misdemeanor charge, was ordered released by Westfall about 9 a.m., but never left the courtroom. He was promptly arrested again by a Panola County deputy who had another warrant for his arrest – this one from an affidavit signed by Lindsey O’Conner who also charged Pattridge with making obscene, lewd, or lascivious comments.
Pattridge is accused of violating state telecommunications statutes, presumably by social media posts, in the O’Connor case.
Deputies carried Pattridge from the Municipal Court on the Square to the Panola County jail where he was processed and released on a $1,500 cash bond. Pattridge was ordered to appear in Justice Court (1st District in Sardis) on Dec. 19 at 8:30 a.m. to answer that charge.
In the first case, Westfaul set a trial date for Feb. 8, 2024. Pattridge surrendered three firearms from his home to deputies and those will be held until after the trial is resolved.
Until then, and as a condition of his release, Pattridge is prohibited from entering the Courthouse at Batesville, having any contact with Melissa Meek Phelps, possessing any firearms, and from posting any language on any social media sites about the case or about Melissa Meek Phelps personally.
In that case, Phelps signed a statement saying that Pattridge had called her an “abrasive b—-” and stated “everywhere you go, you will see me.” Phelps said she consulted with her husband and Justice Court Judge Michael Darby before making the charge.
On Thursday District Attorney Jay Hale told The Panolian he also interviewed Phelps about the phone call, and determined that it was a misdemeanor charge, not a felony, and therefore a matter for Municipal Court and not the DA’s Office.
Pattridge, contacted Thursday afternoon, said he did call the Courthouse on Tuesday as charged, but did so because the Justice Court Office in Sardis recommended he call the Circuit Clerk’s Office. He said the reason for the call was for information about the location of a handgun taken from him earlier this year by deputies, who suspected it was a stolen firearm.
It was determined the firearm was not stolen, but the Sheriff’s Office would not return the weapon, or give him any information about its whereabouts, Pattridge said.
Pattridge said Melissa Meek Phelps, who answered the phone call to the Circuit Clerk’s Office Tuesday, did not identify herself and he didn’t know to whom he was speaking. He maintains the charges were filed in retaliation for a video posted Friday, Dec. 1, on YouTube that was critical of the Sheriff’s Office and Justice Court Judge Michael Darby for their actions on Tuesday, Nov. 7, the day of the General Election.
On that day, Pattridge stood on the Square with signs accusing Sheriff Phelps of malfeasance and urging votes to choose another candidate. Video from the city’s pole-mounted surveillance camera show Pattridge being approached by Batesville Mayor Hal Ferrell then Judge Darby, both telling him to leave the Square and stop campaigning against the sitting sheriff.
The footage also shows Chief of Police Kerry Pittman mediating heated discussion between Pattridge and Darby, with Pittman finally advising Ferrell and Darby that the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution expressly prohibits the suppression of free speech, especially political speech, on public property.
Pattridge continued his one-man demonstration and did not leave the Square until later. From that event and with a variety of other complaints, Pattridge on Friday of last week posted his YouTube diatribe, found at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=a2MQZQBx8iE, again criticizing the sheriff and his deputies.
That video also prompted Josh Griffin, a former deputy relieved of duty following a misconduct charge in Panola County, to swear an affidavit saying that Pattridge “did willfully and unlawfully by means of electronic communication a computer make an obscene, lewd, or lascivious comment with intent to abuse (or threaten or harass) a party by stating on Facebook he’s part of Panola County Goon Squad.”
As a result, Pattridge was issued a summons to appear before Judge Mike Wilson for the civil case in Justice Court (Sardis) on Jan. 16, 2024.
– The Panolian