Federal court sends lawsuit against Moss Point mayor for alleged assault in 2018 back to state court

Alderman Ennit Morris, left, claim Mayor Mario King, right, threatened him with "bodily harm...
Alderman Ennit Morris, left, claim Mayor Mario King, right, threatened him with "bodily harm and arrest" during an executive session. (Photo source: Facebook/Ennit Morris)
Updated: Sep. 29, 2020 at 2:56 PM CDT
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GULFPORT, Miss. (WLOX) - A lawsuit filed against Moss Point Mayor Mario King over an incident that allegedly happened in 2018 has been partially dismissed by a federal court.

The lawsuit was initially filed in 2019 by Moss Point Alderman Ennit Morris over allegations that the mayor ordered a police officer to remove him from a special call meeting of the board in December 2018.

In the nine-page complaint, Morris detailed an incident from a Dec. 4, 2018 board of alderman meeting where he said he was assaulted by the mayor.

An opinion from U.S. District Judge Suleyman Ozerden filed Sept. 28, 2020, dismissed the federal allegations that King violated Morris' First, Fourth, and Fourteenth Amendment rights to freedom of speech, freedom of assembly, and due process of law.

The federal allegations were dismissed by the federal court due to lack of sufficient evidence presented to support the allegations.

However, the federal court’s opinion issued this week says the lawsuit does still meet the grounds laid out in the original complaint to be heard in circuit court, so the case was remanded back to state court.

“The only thing left is an alleged assault and battery charge and an allegation of mental distress, which the (federal) court rules that since they had addressed and dismissed every federal count, there was no need for them to keep the case there. So they sent it back to Jackson County. Once the case is docketed in Jackson County, we will aggressively move forward to have these claims dismissed... And we feel confident that this will be resolved in our favor,” said King’s attorney, Robert Wilkinson.

The court’s opinion alleges that Mayor King, in his official capacity, deprived Morris of his federal constitutional rights to freedom of speech, freedom of assembly, and freedom from the unreasonable use of force.

Because Morris' claim is against the mayor in his official capacity, the law states he must show proof of an official policy being violated or that King was the policymaker when the offense took place.

King argued successfully that he was not the policymaker during the board of alderman meeting because he has no power over the city’s executive branch of government.

“In this case, Mr. Morris has not alleged any formal policy adopted by the Board of Aldermen which authorized the removal of a board member from an Executive Session, nor has he asserted that the Board of Aldermen indicated that such action by Mayor King was permissible,” states the court’s opinion.

It continues: “Mayor King, even as the Mayor, did not qualify as a final policymaker when he called for Mr. Morris’s removal because he was not in charge of the meeting and because he was immediately informed by the City Attorney that his actions were not authorized.”

The case has been sent back to Jackson County to be heard by the state on allegations of assault and battery and intentional infliction of emotional distress.

As of Tuesday, no new documents had been filed in Jackson County Circuit Court by Morris. His attorney David Frazier confirmed to WLOX that they were still discussing how to proceed with the state case.

To read the full opinion issued by Judge Ozerden, click HERE.

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