Trackhoe operator arrested by MDWFP found not guilty

In August, the powerful electroshock of a conservation officer’s taser hit Tim Parker in the back, taking him to the ground as he tried to unload his trackhoe to help fight a house fire in Hebron.

On Thursday, he fired back with a high-powered attorney and a powerful witness in Jones County Justice Court.

Parker, 50, was found not guilty after Judge Billie Graham heard more than two hours of testimony from officer Richard Holifield and other members of the Mississippi Department of Wildlife, Fisheries and Parks, and Parker and his supporters, which included retired federal judge Charles Pickering.

“Somebody needed to be a hero, to back off and take a breath,” Graham said. “I hope nothing like this ever happens again. I can’t find (Parker) guilty under these circumstances.”

Parker, who lives in Soso and owns a con- struction company, said it was important to him to have his name cleared of any criminal wrongdoing. But he didn’t get something else that he wanted.

“I would like an apology from them for putting me through this,” Parker said of the MDWFP.

Gulfport attorney Joe Sam Owen is going to try to get him a check instead. Owen and partner Robert Myers were representing Parker in the criminal case and they intend to file a lawsuit against MDWFP. Holifield testified that he had come to help Deputy Adam Cochran with traffic control while firefighters, family and friends went to the home of Rick and Paige Dunkerton as it burned on Hebron-Centerville Road on the morning of Aug. 4.

After he had been there for a while, an 18-wheeler pulling a trailer with a trackhoe on it came around a curve with a fire truck behind it. Holifield said he radioed Cochran to find out where the trackhoe needed to go.

Holifield testified that he stepped in the roadway, wav- ing for the truck to stop, “but he continued to approach” and Parker “motioned for me to get get out of the road and he kept coming.”

Holifield said, “I jumped back and the fender well on the passenger’s side struck the underside of my right arm. I was stunned for a second. He still didn’t stop.”

The officer then got his patrol vehicle and drove up to the big rig.

“He was trying to unbind his trackhoe from the trailer,” Holifield testified. “I approached him, told him he was under arrest, to turn around and put his hands behind his back.”

Parker just asked, “Why?” and “What for?” Holifield said. “I gave him three loud verbal commands.”

The fourth time, Holifield said he warned Parker that he would be tased if he didn’t comply with his orders.

“He started to walk away ... and I deployed my taser,” Holifield said. “(Parker) attempted to get up off the ground ... he was saying, ‘Just let me up,’ and I told him, ‘I’ll tase you again,’” Holifield testified.

“Several firemen approached, saying (Parker) was sent here to help ... I told them to get back,” Holifield said. Pickering then “came up and told me why (Parker) was on the scene.”

Pickering said that the trackhoe was needed to tear the tin roof off his daughter’s home so the firefighters could attack the blaze.

“I made the decision to temporarily release (Parker) to help fight the fire,” Holif- ield said, “but I said he’s still going to jail, and they said OK.”

After it appeared he was finished, “My supervisor said, ‘Let’s get him and go before this turns into a riot.’”

Holifield was “temporarily reassigned” from Jones County to Lamar.

County prosecutor Brad Thompson also called MDW- FP officers David Barry and Keith Jones as witnesses. Barry said that the use of

a taser on someone who is being non-compliant is up to the “officer’s discretion.”

Parker testified that he was at his home in Soso when he got calls from two firefight- ers and Whitney Pickering to come assist with the fire.

Jason Green testified that he told Holifield someone was on the way with a trackhoe.

Parker testified that there were two fire trucks behind him as he approached the scene. “Holifield stepped in the road ... I tried for the airhorn, but I couldn’t stop,” he testified. “I did not strike that man.”

Parker said he was working to unload the trackhoe when Holifield’s pickup “came sliding up and he said, ‘You sorry son-of-a-bitch, you tried to run over me.’

“I said, ‘I tried to keep from running over you.’ You can’t stop this truck just like that. Let me help them. I took two steps and he tased me.”

Thompson asked Parker why he didn’t comply.

“I was there to help the fire department,” Parker said. “(Holifield) should have had better sense than to walk out in front of an 18-wheeler.”

Hebron volunteer Wiley Pickering testified that he saw the confrontation from about 100 feet away and and

it didn’t appear to be an “aggressive altercation.” Then he saw Parker get tased. He and other volunteers went to check on Parker and ask that a paramedic check him. “(Holifield) just told us to get back,” he said.

Thompson pointed out that Wiley Pickering and the other firefighters obeyed the officer’s commands so nothing happened to them.

“Yes, (Holifield) had his hand on his side and I just witnessed Tim get shot by him, so I complied,” Pickering said as supporters erupted in laughter.

When Parker was being booked into the jail, he said he overheard Holifield telling his captain what happened.

“I said, ‘Tell him what you really said, that you called me a sorry son-of-a-bitch

... (Holifield) just grinned,” Parker said. “The captain told him, ‘You better get every charge you can on this man and make ’em stick.

Parker was allowed to call his wife, but he had to spend the night in jail before bonding out the next day.

Judge Pickering testified last, getting choked up as he described the “traumatic” scene of the fire.

There were some precious family antiques and memorabilia from his young granddaughter, who died a little more than a year earlier.

Thompson acknowledged that it was an emotional time for the family, but he asked Pickering if he saw the officer when he arrived.

“I did, but I wasn’t driving an 18-wheeler and I wasn’t coming to help fight the fire,” Pickering said.

The retired judge didn’t see any part of the confrontation.

“The officer said (Parker) hit him, and frankly, I didn’t believe it,” Pickering said.

The only evidence of any injury was blood on Parker.

Pickering said he tried to work things out between Holifield and Parker.

Holifield told him that “anytime we use force, they’ve got to go to jail,” Pickering testified. “I told him that’s only going to make matters worse.”

With Parker’s supporters filling one side of the courtroom and more than a dozen MDWFP officers on Holifield’s side, Graham made her ruling immediately.

“This is a very difficult situation,” she said. “People trying to help got pulled into a bigger problem.

“I find it hard to believe that there is no photograph or any other evidence of an injury to the officer.”

She found him not guilty on the charge of simple assault on a law enforcement officer, and not guilty for failure to yield and comply.

Afterward, Pickering said he believed Graham made the right decision.

“The judge listened very carefully,” he said, “and she made the appropriate ruling.”

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