Un-preserved officer video plays big role in jury’s decision
Alonzo Nix said he was left holding the bag when his friends left him at a house while they went to get some food, and Jones County jurors believed him. They deliberated for about an hour before deciding that the 16 pounds or so of bagged marijuana that Laurel police found at the residence he was in may not have been his.
“I was at the wrong place at the wrong time,” Nix, 36, said while testifying at the end of the two-day trial in Jones County Circuit Court.
Nix, a former pro football player, was charged with possession of marijuana with intent to distribute and trafficking a controlled substance after Laurel police found the drugs — valued at as much as $16,000 on the street — packed in vacuum-sealed bags, a vacuum sealer and a digital scale at a house in the 1300 block of Congress Street in April 2017.
Nix insisted that the residence was not his, and there was police body-cam video that would have supported his version of events, but video was not preserved, so it wasn’t available for trial. That’s a point that Nix and attorney Tracy Klein pounded on during testimony and the closing argument.
Those points also weighed heavily in the jurors’ decision. One juror, speaking on the condition of anonymity summed it up by saying, “They did not prove that the marijuana belonged to him.”
The jury also would have liked to have heard from other people who had been at the house earlier and they wanted to see video, the juror added.
“The tape is in my defense,” Nix testified. “If we had the video, you would see the police trying my key in the door and it not working.” He also said that some information four LPD officers’ testified to on the first day of trial was not true.
“So, all of the law enforcement officers who took the stand lied?” Assistant District Attorney Kristen Martin asked Nix during cross-examination.
“They had to,” Nix said. “There’s a reason the video ain’t in court today.”
A total of five officers had body-cam video of the arrest and all of their interactions with Nix that night, but the video “rolls off” from being stored on “The Cloud” after 90 days if it’s not downloaded to another device. No one preserved the video, officers testified. Also, a fingerprint that was taken from the vacuum sealer was not Nix’s, according to testimony from a crime lab technician. A T-shirt that Nix was wearing at the time of his arrest — reportedly with marijuana residue on it — also wasn’t put into evidence. Klein hit on all of those points throughout the trial and in his closing argument.
“Alonzo was hampered in his ability to present a complete defense,” Klein said of the lack of video after the jury returned the not guilty verdict. “After the print was lifted and determined it was not made by Alonzo, there was no effort to identify, locate and fingerprint the resident lease-holders of the home where the marijuana was seized to determine if the fingerprint belonged to one of them.”
The home belonged to Tamesia Thames, Nix testified. She and Sha-Miel Lindsey had left the home with a man nicknamed “Pooh Bear” to get a to-go order from Applebee’s before Nix went to work that night.
When Martin asked, “Where are they now?” Nix replied that he had “lost contact” with them and that “it’s got to be one of their fingerprints.”
But Thames was the first person to respond after news of Nix’s verdict was posted on his Facebook page. She responded with three gorilla emojis and commented “made up a - - story they put out.” The story was first shared on the page by someone with the Facebook name “Colombiana Marley.”
Nix posted a laughing face and wrote, “Told u lil n - - - -s ion lose 1 on 1 n nothing” followed by an emoji of a flexed bicep.
After the verdict, LPD Chief Tommy Cox said he “wishes we would’ve had video” from the officers’ body-cams, but he also lamented the expectation that police produce video for every case.
“We had plenty of officers to testify to what they saw,” he said. “It’s a sad day when the testimony of five or six officers isn’t enough anymore.”
The jury didn’t hear from arresting officer Wade Robertson, one of two LPD officers who was fired last summer for kicking a suspect after a high-speed chase to Jasper County. His name was brought up numerous times by Klein, but the reason he wasn’t in court never came up. Nix’s past also didn’t come up. He was on house arrest for possession of marijuana with intent to distribute and for possession of cocaine, according to the story that was published at the time of his arrest.
Nix did, however, testify to working for Gary Hampton — the older brother of former NFL star Clinton Portis — at the Soho Bar at the Laurel Hotel. Martin noted that Hampton had served time in federal prison for dealing drugs.
Nix testified that his job had nothing to do with drugs.
“I would bartend, work the door, clean up,” he said, and after Martin mentioned Portis, Nix said, “Clinton Portis doesn’t have no drug history. He’s a good guy.”
Nix also testified that he was in the NFL for seven years before his career was ended by a torn Achilles heel. But records show that he went from Jones County Junior College to the University of Tennessee-Chattanooga before spending a brief time with the Tennessee Titans, then playing several seasons in the Arena Football League, in Nashville, Alabama and Colorado.
Officers went to the house on Congress Street that April 2017 night after a report of a domestic disturbance and a stolen car. When they arrived, Nix “tried to flee” out the back door and proclaimed that “whatever in the house is not mine,” police testified. But Nix testified that he just walked out the door, no one else was at the house and no vehicle was there. Police also testified that he said he was “smoking a blunt,” but he denied that, too, saying he was lying down on the couch waiting on his friends to return with his food before going to work.
“Officer Wade Robertson was the spokesman,” Nix testified. “He said if there was anything in the house, I was getting charged with it. I got riled up and then he threatened me.”
When asked if he knew about the marijuana in the home, Nix said he didn’t.
“I don’t know what they found,” Nix said, adding that he was living in an apartment in Ellisville at the time. “It’s not my house.”
With no video to corroborate or contradict either side’s story, the jury had to make the decision based on testimony.
Martin closed by saying that Nix was using the “blame-the-police” defense. “I wish we had the body-cam video and the officers wish we had the video. It would show that what they are telling you is the truth.”