Jackson, Miss. mayor pleads not guilty to federal charges

Mayor Frank Melton and his two police bodyguards, Michael Recio and Marcus Wright, were indicted last week on three counts each of conspiracy and violating the civil rights of an owner of a private residence and the man who lived in the house. They were indicted yesterday, and all three men pleaded not guilty.

The Jackson Free Press reported that the indictment alleges that in August 2006 Melton and his two bodyguards brought several young men-some of them minors-to a house in an impoverished Jackson, Miss. neighborhood. Melton and his bodyguards ordered the two occupants out of the house at gunpoint and then directed the group of youths to attack and damage the house, using sledgehammers and sticks to knock out walls and windows, according to the Jackson Free Press, which first broke the story of the incident in 2006 and continues its investigative coverage of the mayor.

Melton's popularity in the city is divided. Known for his tough-on-crime image and populism, he is often praised for his unorthodox tactics to curb crime. But his methods-some of which include warrantless searches of homes and vehicles, unauthorized club raids, carrying guns and concealed weapons, and riding through the inner city with the police department's mobile command center-have come under fire and are labeled an abuse of power. His current indictment joins a growing pile of past indictments, including several weapons charges, lodged at Melton since he took office in 2005.

Several critics have labeled the mayor's crime-fighting tactics as "Melton's Law": the belief that other laws don't apply as long as you're "doing the right thing," something that has earned him a hero status by his supporters as well as much criticism by civil liberty advocates.

In 2006, members of the NAACP and the ACLU accused Melton of civil rights violations in his crusade to stem crime, including racial profiling and infringing upon people's rights by targeting an uninformed segment of the community while on crime sweeps. A 2006 press release by the ACLU of Mississippi said that they had received complaints from Jackson residents that held that Melton created an environment where racial profiling was accepted, due process was ignored, searches were conducted illegally and police brutality was commonplace.