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Jimmy C. Morris, Jr. is a Little Rock attorney who is representing Burns and Clifford Crisswell. Morris said that Burns has been kicked off the ASU football team due to his arrest. “We're talking about B-plus, A-plus students, charged with felonies,” Morris said. “One of my clients, Mr. Burns, doesn't have so much as a parking ticket. Never been in trouble, but now he's charged with a felony.”
Morris finds it troubling that one moment a Jonesboro police officer was celebrating with students, and only moments later the gathering was termed a riot. While stopping short of calling the incident racially motivated, he said he believes the calls to 911 and at least some of the reactions by officers on the scene were due in part to McCain's loss in the presidential election. “The blowback or punishment is on these students for celebrating something that the greater Jonesboro area was not happy with,” he said.
Morris said that he has already had inquires about the case from reporters from national news outlets. He said that if Jonesboro pursues “this line of injustice” and prosecutes those arrested, he fears it may become a national embarrassment for Arkansas and the town. He goes so far as to invoke the name of Jena, a small Louisiana town that was engulfed in a media firestorm in 2007 after six black students were arrested for assault following an incident in which nooses were hung in a tree outside the local high school.
“I'm hoping that cooler heads prevail,” Morris said. “I'm hoping that it doesn't become a black eye for Jonesboro, but if they go down this road and prosecute these eight young men, I can see another Jena coming.”
Capt. Lynn Waterworth, spokesperson for the Jonesboro Police Department, said the department is investigating the event. So far, she said, everything that investigators have found supports what officers on the scene are saying, “but without the investigation completed, I think it's safe to say that everyone has their own version of events, and we are making sure that a thorough investigation is being conducted so we'll know one way or another.”
Waterworth said that the dispatch center received eight or nine calls from residents at The Grove that night, and the tapes of those calls differ from what those in the crowd have been telling the media in recent weeks. Asked if dispatchers took into account that some of the callers might have been disgruntled over the loss by McCain and seeking to cause problems for Obama supporters, Waterworth said police can't make that kind of judgment about a 911 call.
“If someone calls and says their cat's up a tree, [or] if someone calls and says Martians have landed in their back yard, we don't distinguish on a call for service,” she said. “If you start getting into that where you're trying to make a determination when someone calls — is this a legitimate call or not? — you run into judgments at the end of a telephone that you don't need to be making. We still have to go.”
Waterworth said she's confident the investigation will vindicate the department, which will make some who were there unhappy. “They turned this into something worse, and made a big deal out of nothing,” said Alexandra Ingram. “It's all about the way they came at us. If they had said, ‘The celebration is over, guys. You're going to have to go inside,' that would have been fine. But they jumped out on us and made this scene way bigger than it was.”
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