Assault charge filed against mayor after argument|[3/24/05]

Published 12:00 am Thursday, March 24, 2005

A candidate for North Ward Alderman filed a criminal complaint against Vicksburg Mayor Laurence Leyens Wednesday after an impromptu debate in front of a television camera.

Rodney Dillamar, seeking the Democratic party nomination in the North Ward race, said he felt threatened by words spoken by Leyens and another city employee. The affidavit Dillamar signed with the Vicksburg Police Department accuses the one-term incumbent with simple assault, a misdemeanor, by verbal threat. There was no physical contact.

Leyens denied the charges and accused Dillamar, owner of a convenience store, of being “desperate” and trying to create a “media event.”

Email newsletter signup

Sign up for The Vicksburg Post's free newsletters

Check which newsletters you would like to receive
  • Vicksburg News: Sent daily at 5 am
  • Vicksburg Sports: Sent daily at 10 am
  • Vicksburg Living: Sent on 15th of each month

“I never touched him. I didn’t do anything,” Leyens said. “It was obviously a set-up.”

Leyens said he went downtown from City Hall after learning that Melanie Damrell, former owner of the Dixie Diamonds bar, 1306 Washington St., was being interviewed by WLBT. Damrell was evicted from the property by the owner, Harry Sharp, for failing to pay rent, according to court documents, but Damrell contends she was discriminated against by “high-ranking” city officials.

Damrell, who is white, says city officials don’t want black businesses in the renovated parts of the Washington Street corridor. Leyens, who owns property downtown, says the city had nothing to do with Damrell’s eviction and was trying to convey that to the television crew when Dillamar walked up.

“He was being extremely aggressive,” Leyens said. “He’s desperate and he was just trying to create a media event.”

Dillamar said he went downtown because he wanted to stick up for Damrell. Dillamar said that’s when he and Leyens got into an argument.

“He said, ‘You’re going to pay for this,'” Dillamar said.

Leyens denied making that statement, but a tape and transcript from WLBT contain those words.

Later, after the television interview, Dillamar also criticized Leyens’ personal investments in the downtown urban renewal area, his divorce and his religion.

“He doesn’t even believe in Jesus Christ, so how can he say he cares about the churches?” Dillamar said. Leyens is Jewish. His first marriage ended during his term and he has remarried.

Vicksburg Police Chief Tommy Moffett said Dillamar’s affidavit would be investigated the same way any complaint is investigated, but that he will keep in mind that politics could be a factor.

“We have to look at that,” Moffett said. “I don’t get involved in politics and I don’t want the police department to be used to that end.”

Under state law, a statement may be considered an assault if the complaining person shows fear of imminent, physical danger, he said.

“Based on what’s written in the report, there may not have been a threat,” Moffett said.

Moffett said the complaint will be assigned to an officer and the evidence will be turned over to the city prosecutor. The prosecutor has the option of taking the complaint before the municipal court where the judge can issue an arrest warrant or dismiss the complaint.

Dillamar also filed a simple assault complaint against city employee Malcolm Carson, who was with Leyens before the interview. Dillamar also accused Carson of verbal assault. Carson also denied the charge.

Leyens, 40, is running as an independent in the June 7 municipal election and faces challenges from former Mayor Joe Loviza, 65, who is also running as an independent; Republican Shirley Newman Smollen, 69, and the winner of the May 3 Democratic primary race.

Seeking the Democratic nomination are former Warren County District 2 Supervisor John Ferguson, 63; Eric Rawlings, 42, who ran unsuccessfully for the nomination four years ago; Warren County District 3 Supervisor Charles Selmon, 44; and first-time office seeker John Shorter, 38, a contractor with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.

Dillamar, 45, is seeking the Democratic nomination for the North Ward Alderman’s position for the third time, having lost both previous tries to incumbent Gertrude Young, 49, who is seeking her fourth term. In 1997, Dillamar polled 15 percent of the primary vote, which he improved to 21 percent in 2001. Warren County District 2 Supervisor Michael Mayfield, 47, is also seeking the Democratic nomination in that race.

Independents running for the North Ward seat are city employee Vickie Bailey, 36, and construction worker Tommie Rawlings, 41. The only Republican in that race is Carl Yelverton, 58, a security guard at a casino.

Seeking the Democratic nomination in the South Ward are former Vicksburg police officer DaVon Grey, 46, and local hair dresser Pam Johnson, 39. The winner there will challenge incumbent Sid Beauman, 57, a Republican seeking his second term.

Election winners take office July 1 to start four-year terms.