Case against Madison County judge now with DA

May 28, 2014
Jerry Mitchell

Canton police investigating a Justice Court judge who allegedly slapped a mentally challenged man have turned the case over for possible prosecution.

Canton Police Chief Otha Brown said what evidence they have regarding the allegations against Madison County Justice Court Judge Bill Weisenberger is now in the hands of District Attorney Michael Guest. Guest could not be reached for comment. The Madison County grand jury next meets June 4.

Weisenberger, a former constable and former emergency operations director in Madison County, could not be reached for comment. According to Justice Court officials, he will return to the bench June 16.

Under Mississippi law, the infliction of pain on a vulnerable adult is a felony and carries a penalty of up to 20 years in prison if convicted.

Vendors at the Canton Flea Market told The Clarion-Ledger they witnessed Weisenberger, working as a security guard, slap Eric Rivers, 20, and yell the N-word at him.

The American Civil Liberties Union, the Mississippi Center for Justice and the Southern Poverty Law Center are calling for Weisenberger to be removed from office.

In a joint statement Wednesday, the organizations said, "The days when those in authority are allowed to use race to determine how this state's citizens are treated belongs permanently in the rearview mirror. We encourage others who believe in the clarion call of 'justice for all' to stand with us and those bystanders who were appalled by Judge Weisenberger's conduct, and demand a response which will make Mississippi a better place for all today."

NAACP officials, who have called for Weisenberger to step down until the matter is settled, say they are filing complaints with the Justice Department and the state Commission on Judicial Performance.

Commission officials say if the allegations are true, they would violate multiple canons of the state Judicial Code of Conduct.

On May 8, Robert Perkins of Columbus said he was working with his family at the Canton Flea Market when he spoke with Rivers, whom he could tell was mentally challenged.

He said Rivers was looking to earn money by helping vendors pack their wares.

After doing some work, Perkins looked up and saw Weisenberger screaming at Rivers, he said. "He pushed him, hit him, called him a n----- and told him to run."

Rivers bolted, he said. "Me and my buddy went running after him. We didn't know if he was hurt."

After this took place, he said he noticed Weisenberger laughing and giving a "high five" to a police officer.

When Perkins went to park in order to load back up and leave, he said Weisenberger became angry.

Perkins' mother, Kelly Bailey Ray of Columbus, a vendor at the fair, said Weisenberger was screaming at her son, using the F-word.

She got angry and said she told him not to use that kind of language around children.

She said her husband wound up apologizing for Perkins parking on the wrong side.

She said Weisenberger told her husband, "I'm going to deal with you because I don't take orders from a woman."

Later, she spoke with Weisenberger, who she said told her she owed him an apology. "I came unglued," she said.

She then confronted him about Rivers, she said. "Did you hit that black kid in the back of the head?"

She said Weisenberger replied, "Do you want to know why? Because he groped a woman."

She said she replied, "You should have arrested him then, not whacked him."

She told The Clarion-Ledger, "There is a law against hitting the defenseless. I don't take too kindly to somebody being hit like that. My dad's sister has Down syndrome."

After her encounter with Weisenberger, Ray said she spotted him taking down their tag numbers and saying, "I got you now."

As a result, she filed a complaint with Canton police, she said.

Perkins said he told Canton police about Weisenberger striking Rivers.

Jeremy Williams, chief deputy of the Madison County Sheriff's Department, said some deputies helped provide security at the flea market but would not discuss what was said over the radio.

"We gave those deputies' statements to investigators," he said. "Canton police are investigating."

William Truly, president of the Canton NAACP, said if Weisenberger felt Rivers had "violated the law, he should have called one of the deputy sheriffs. That makes it even worse. He should not be a vigilante. He is not a deputy. He is a judge."