Million Dollar Suit Alleges Sheriff Violated Rights

Marion Waltman wants a million dollars from Harrison County Sheriff George Payne. In a federal lawsuit filed Tuesday, Waltman accuses Payne of illegally destroying Waltman's crop of deer feed. The sheriff says they were acting on a tip that the crop was actually marijuana.

Last September, deputies and inmates pulled up 500 plants on land off Herman Ladner Road. Waltman's lawsuit says Sheriff George Payne raided the kanef field for political gain in his re-election bid.

Deputies did not have a warrant to go on the property. Payne says officers spotted the crop from the air and didn't need a warrant. Waltman's attorney argues that violated Waltman's right against illegal search and seizure.

"We have entry on land. Land is not going anywhere. They have an entire field, crop out there that's not going anywhere. The sheriff had the time to contact the media, called you as I understand it or your office, and he could get WLOX to film the inmates in action. It was just as easy, just as reasonable for him to contact a judge and get a search warrant if he had probable cause," says attorney Chet Nicholson.

Nicholson calls Payne's actions outrageous. He says neither he nor Waltman can get any answers about the investigation or if there's even one underway.

"They won't tell him whether he's still a criminal defendant, whether he's a suspect, where the evidence is, what its status is, what the test results show. We think we know, but we certainly don't get a response from the sheriff."

Nicholson says the suit is much more than asking for money. It's about damaging Waltman's name and reputation.

"He was branded as somebody who was involved in growing contraband, serous felony conduct. And all of those issues are for a jury to determine what they're worth and that's what Mr. Waltman wants."

Sheriff Payne says he hasn't seen the lawsuit. He says his office was assisting a Drug Enforcement Task Force operation the day the field was raided. Some of his deputies are on the task force. Payne says any information about the crop would have to come from DEA.