Family of man held without trial for almost 12 years sues Clay County

September 6, 2018 10:54:08 AM

Isabelle Altman - [email protected]


The family of a man kept in jail for 11 years has filed a wrongful imprisonment lawsuit against Clay County and multiple public officials. 


The plaintiff, Rachel Harris, is the legal guardian of Steven Jessie Harris, who was arrested in 2005 and was ruled incompetent to stand trial in 2010.  


In 2016, he filed a motion to dismiss his case for lack of a speedy trial and was finally released August 2017, following almost 12 years of imprisonment. The complaint, which was filed Tuesday, alleges Steven Harris was wrongfully imprisoned during that time. 


Harris was charged with murder, shooting into an automobile and two counts each of armed robbery, kidnapping and aggravated assault, according to the complaint. At the time of his arrest, Steven Harris was accused of killing his father and shooting several law enforcement officers during a gunfight on Highway 45 Alternate. 


According to previous reporting by The Dispatch, District Attorney Scott Colom said charges against Steven Harris were dropped after his case moved from circuit to chancery court.  


The lawsuit names numerous court and county officials, including former Clay County Sheriff Laddie Huffman, current Sheriff Eddie Scott, former District Attorney Forrest Allgood, Circuit Judge Lee Howard, Circuit Judge Jim Kitchens, Chancery Judge Kenneth Burns and several "John Does." 


Rachel Harris is asking for $11 million in damages, according to the complaint. 


"The Defendants, with reckless disregard for Mr. Steven Jessie Harris' medical condition, took actions to deprive him of his 4th, 8th and/or 14th amendment rights to mental care," the complaint says. 


Neither Clay County Board of Trustees President R.B. Davis nor board attorney Angela Turner-Ford returned calls to The Dispatch by press time. 


The Dispatch also unsuccessfully reached out to Allgood. 




Nature of allegations 


In October 2010, five years after Steven Harris' arrest, Howard ordered civil commitment hearings for Harris. However, one of the John Doe plaintiffs, identified in the complaint as "Special Master Doe," signed an order saying the chancery court lacked jurisdiction to hear Steven Harris' case because Harris was facing criminal charges. The complaint says it was clear medical opinions ruled Steven Harris was "legally incompetent with no realistic probability that he would ever be restored to competence, but ... Clay County failed to adhere to the requirement of civilly committing an individual who is unfit to stand trial." 


Harris' case remained in limbo until he was released in April 2017 after charges were dropped. 


The Dispatch previously reported that Steven Harris spent six months in the custody of East Mississippi State Hospital before being released in 2017. 


"Steven's life has been ruined by (Clay County's) misdeeds," the complaint said. "Defendants improperly caused Mr. Harris to be removed from his freedom and family, and abruptly thrust instead into the Mississippi prison system to fend for himself as an incompetent individual. 


"Additionally, emotional pain and suffering caused by losing (11) years in the prime of life has been substantial," the complaint adds. "During his wrongful incarceration ... Steven was stripped of various pleasures of basic human experience, from the simplest to the most important, which all free people enjoy as a matter of right. He missed out on the ability to share holidays, births, funerals, and other life events with loved ones and the fundamental freedom to live one's life as an autonomous human being."