Dr. James Ruggles, oral surgeon in city, dies on Thanksgiving

Published 12:00 am Friday, November 24, 2000

Dr. James E. Ruggles, the oral surgeon whose wrongful arrest suit is pending against the City of Vicksburg, died Thanksgiving Day at ParkView Regional Medical Center. He was 54.

Dr. Ruggles had practiced in Vicksburg since 1983.

His civil suit in U.S. District Court against the City of Vicksburg and several members of the Vicksburg Police Department charges that he was falsely arrested for dispensing a Schedule IV controlled substance to an employee. The suit does not ask for a specific amount in damages. The suit will be continued, his wife said today.

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Dr. Ruggles had sought a simple apology from City Hall, according to news stories since the case began, and only filed suit when no action was taken. The charge against him was not prosecuted.

“He was a client but he was also a friend,” said Landman Teller Jr., the Vicksburg attorney representing Dr. Ruggles in the lawsuit.

Teller said he had known Dr. Ruggles before the lawsuit, but that they had become close in the past year and a half.

“One thing I was impressed with was his strong moral character,” Teller said of Dr. Ruggles, who was diagnosed with cancer several months ago.

“He was truly a good man,” said Russell E. Hawkins, another friend.

Hawkins said being around Dr. Ruggles was always an uplifting experience. “He was always true and straight,” Hawkins said. “You always knew where he stood and where you stood with him.”

Dr. Ruggles was a native of Beaumont, Texas. He received his education at the University of Texas and his training as an oral surgeon at the William Beaumont Army Medical Center in El Paso, Texas. He moved to Vicksburg and began his private practice after serving in the Army.

He was a member of Crawford Street United Methodist Church.

He was preceded in death by his father, Paul Ruggles.

He is survived by his wife, Karen Ruggles of Vicksburg; a son, Dr. Jon Ruggles of Vicksburg; a daughter, Teri Ruggles of Nashville; his mother, Eniver Ruggles of Virginia Beach, Va.; and a brother, Jerry Ruggles of Virginia Beach.

Arrangements were incomplete with Fisher-Riles Funeral Home in charge.

In what an expert witness hired in his behalf called a clear setup, Dr. Ruggles was arrested on the way home from work in February 1999 by officers of the Vicksburg Police Department’s narcotics bureau.

Facts underlying that arrest were that he had told the police he had dispensed several tablets of the sedative Valium to Sherry Balthrup, an employee at the time. She had expressed a fear of flying, but had not taken the pills found loose in her purse by police after a traffic stop.

Court papers say Gil Martin, 9th Circuit Court district attorney, declined to prosecute the case, even before the arrest, since physicians are licensed to dispense medicine and there was no criminal offense in the facts presented to him by police.

In addition to the City of Vicksburg, then-narcotics officers Tom Wilson and Lt. Walter Beamon and former Police Chief Charles Chisley are defendants.

The case was to have gone to trial Aug. 28 before U.S. District Judge David C. Bramlette, but three Jackson attorneys representing the city filed an appeal with the U.S. Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals asking that a pretrial ruling by Bramlette be reversed. They said the officers should have qualified immunity for their actions because they were public officials acting in good faith.

The city’s attorneys lost on a motion to seal the record from the public, but did not appeal that issue.

“The case will continue,” said Karen Ruggles, adding that Dr. Ruggles was confident he would win. She declined further comment, saying she did not want to jeopardize the lawsuit.