God Squad Member Goes On Trial

Christene Brice was in Harrison County Justice Court on Wednesday facing charges of resisting arrest and disorderly conduct.

During Black Spring Break, Brice was one of a few dozen community members who volunteered to serve on the God Squad. Their mission was to help resolve conflicts between students and assist law enforcement. But on April 7, 2001 at around 1 p.m. Christine Brice was arrested by Harrison County Sheriff's Department investigator Kevin Jackson.

Harrison County Sheriff's Deputy Jason Elder testified that he and a team of three others pulled over a car on Hwy. 90 in Biloxi because it was blocking traffic. Elder told the judge that when the driver pulled over, Brice walked up to him. Elder says he asked her several times to step back, but she refused. He says Brice was interfering with his attempts to talk to the people in the car.

Investigator Kevin Jackson testified that he then stepped in and also asked Brice to step back. He says when she still didn't comply, he put his hand on Brice's back and guided her away from the car. He says he told Brice that if she wouldn't cooperate, she'd be arrested. Jackson says Brice continued to argue and so he arrested her, but he says Brice was trying to pull away and it was a struggle to put the handcuffs on her.

Four witnesses for the defense described things much differently. Fellow God Squad member Rev. Eddie Hartwell testified that Brice was only doing the job she was trained to do. Hartwell says Brice simply asked the deputies what the problem was and one of them "pushed her" and then "slammed" her up against the patrol car.

Rev. Cornelius Hilliard also testified that Investigator Jackson grabbed Brice. Hilliard said Jackson was "throwing her around like she was a piece of paper" and that Brice was crying.

Dozens of Brice's supporters sat outside the courtroom during the trial. They were happy to hear that Judge Bruce Strong dismissed the charge of resisting arrest. But on the charge of disorderly conduct, he found Brice guilty. He fined her only the $84.50 in court costs. Brice's attorneys told her not to comment to the media because they plan to appeal.

"We're certainly going to file our notice of appeal and believe that the record was clear that she was acting in the course and scope of her duties as a God Squad member," said Felicia Dunn-Burkes, Brice's attorney.

God Squad coordinator Jimmy Johnson says this incident will not deter the group from coming together again next year if Black Spring Break returns, but he says perhaps more training would be necessary to make sure an incident like this does not happen again.

"It's a good concept," Johnson said after the trial. "It's good for the students that are here and I'm sorry something like this happened. We'll have to critique the situation and maybe do a little more training."

Johnson says the incident with Brice will not hurt the relationship between the God Squad and law enforcement.

"You take every incident within itself," he said. "This is not a major incident that happened to every law enforcement officer and every God Squad member."

A group of coast ministers including some of the men who testified for the defense will be holding a news conference Thursday to announce a plan of action in light of what they describe as civil rights violations by the Harrison County Sheriff's Department during Black Spring Break.

WLOX plans to have a crew at that news conference and will bring you more on that story on Thursday.