Ruggles case will go to trial

Published 12:00 am Thursday, January 18, 2001

[01/18/01] The false arrest lawsuit brought by an oral surgeon against the City of Vicksburg has been cleared by an appeals court to go to trial nearly two months after the surgeon’s death.

Dr. James E. Ruggles, the plaintiff, died Nov. 23. His survivors are continuing the case.

“I am glad for his family that they will finally get to go to court,” said Landman Teller Jr., the Ruggles’ attorney.

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The case was scheduled for trial Aug. 28 before U.S. District Judge David C. Bramlette, but the three Jackson attorneys representing Vicksburg filed an appeal to the U.S. Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals asking that a pretrial ruling by Bramlette be reversed.

The motion, in essence, said the officers who arrested Ruggles should have qualified immunity for their actions because they were public officials acting in good faith.

In its response issued Wednesday, the appeals court said that’s an issue that would be decided at trial before any appeal would be proper. “We lack the jurisdiction to hear this appeal because it involves claims regarding the sufficiency of the evidence,” the court wrote. “For the foregoing reasons, we dismiss the appeal for lack of jurisdiction.” A new trial date has not been set.

Ruggles, who was a cancer patient, became progressively ill and died on Thanksgiving Day. He was 54.

His suit in U.S. District Court charges that Vicksburg narcotics officers purposely arrested him in February 1999 after being told by others, including District Attorney Gil Martin, that the facts on which they planned to charge him did not constitute a crime.

After the charges were not prosecuted, Ruggles had sought an apology from City Hall, according to court papers, and filed suit only when no action was taken. A specific amount of money damages is not specified.

In what an expert witness hired in his behalf called a deliberate attempt to humiliate, Ruggles was pulled from his car on the way home from work by officers of the Vicksburg Police Department’s narcotics bureau.

Before his arrest, Ruggles told police, he had dispensed several tablets of the sedative Valium to Sherry Balthrup, his 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.

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 city’s attorneys also filed a motion to have the trial record kept secret from the public, but that motion was denied, too.