Chris McDaniel

Chris McDaniel gets ready to talk to supporters on Election Night in November. He will be co-counsel for the City of Laurel in a lawsuit filed by Greg Burroughs in U.S. District Court. (Photo by Sean Murphy)

State senator and law partner Robinson will defend city in lawsuit

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Chris McDaniel and law partner Brett Robinson will defend the City of Laurel in a lawsuit that was filed in federal court by accused killer Greg Burroughs.

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Greg Burroughs in court.

McDaniel, a three-term state senator who has run two high-profile campaigns for U.S. Senate, is with the law firm Hortman Harlow Bassi Robinson & McDaniel. He and Robinson will answer the complaint that was filed by Burroughs’ attorney Daniel M. Waide of Hattiesburg in U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Mississippi in Hattiesburg last month. D.D. Bassi, who is also a partner in the firm with McDaniel and Robinson, is the city attorney for Laurel.

“The city is employing some of the best legal minds in the city,” Laurel Mayor Johnny Magee said. “We will be very well-represented with their help.”

The lawsuit lists Investigator Michael Reaves (spelled “Reeves” throughout Waide’s 21-page document), Officer Josh Welch and “John Does 1-5” as defendants, along with the City of Laurel.

Waide claims that his client was the victim of “malicious prosecution, defamation, slander and false imprisonment” by the LPD during their investigation into the death of Burroughs’ girlfriend, 23-year-old Katherine Sinclair. Burroughs is seeking compensation for “loss of reputation” and “loss of enjoyment of life” as a result of the police department’s actions.

Sinclair suffered “a reported self-inflicted gunshot” in the garage of Burroughs’ home in the gated community Windermere on the night of June 1, 2017, according to Waide’s complaint, and Burroughs called 911 to report that she had shot herself, then went to the end of the driveway to help officers find the residence.

The lawsuit did not mention that Burroughs made two calls before dialing 911, which came out in the criminal trial. In September, a Franklin County jury found Burroughs not guilty of manslaughter in Sinclair’s death. A wrongful death suit filed by her family is still pending and will likely be heard next year by a jury outside of Jones County.

McDaniel on Monday declined to comment for this story citing litigation.

Burroughs’ lawsuit against the city and LPD claims that he was “completely cooperative” when officers questioned him at the scene. The car that Sinclair was in at the time of the shooting was towed away “for further processing,” and Burroughs’ family and neighbors were told they could clean the garage. “No person was allowed to clean or alter the vehicle before the vehicle was towed by law enforcement, despite apparent reports from the Defendants otherwise,” according to the complaint. 

Burroughs was then told that he was being taken to the police station to give a statement and that he “would be back home shortly,” the lawsuit states. He consented to undergoing a polygraph examination by Welch.

Burroughs was told he failed the polygraph, but the test results were flawed, his attorney claims, because it was administered within 48 hours of a traumatic event, following an interrogation by an officer who “only had a temporary license” using a machine that was outdated. 

The complaint also noted that Welch shouldn’t have administered the test because he and Burroughs have “a history.” Almost a year before Sinclair’s shooting, Welch arrested Burroughs after a disturbance and domestic situation with another former girlfriend in North Laurel. He was also charged with driving drunk with his young daughter in the car and resisting arrest, but Welch “failed to show up to court … and said charges were dismissed.”

During the investigation into the shooting, Burroughs was placed in a cell in “solitary confinement” while investigators requested warrants to search his home, even though he “would have consented to the search,” the complaint continues. The warrant included a request to search for “drugs, money and guns,” which played no role in the investigation. “These sloppily and hastily drafted warrants foreshadowed and exemplified the manner in which the entire investigation was undertaken by the Defendants.”

Burroughs was subjected to “multiple strip searches … despite the fact that he was in police custody in between each strip search” in the days he was incarcerated in the Jones County Adult Detention Center.

Burroughs was later charged with murder “despite the facts of the case being wholly consistent with a self-inflicted gunshot wound” and the police’s probable cause was “the result of a reckless investigation and intentional/reckless alteration of factual findings,” the complaint continued.

The lawsuit blames the City of Laurel and Chief (Tyrone) Stewart, as supervisors of defendants Reaves and Welch, for failing to train their subordinates properly. Stewart died in January.

“No name clearing hearing will adequately restore the substantial damage done to (Burroughs’) name and reputation,” the complaint continued. He was found not guilty at trial, “but damages caused by the Defendants’ actions are irreversible.”

The complaint concludes by asking that Burroughs be awarded “nominal and actual damages” as well as “compensatory damages … for past and future pecuniary and non-pecuniary losses, emotional distress, suffering, loss of reputation, humiliation, inconvenience, mental anguish, loss of enjoyment of life and other non-pecuniary losses.”

It also asks for punitive damages in an amount to be determined at trial.

McDaniel and Robinson will have to answer the complaint before the end of this month. Judge Keith Starrett will reportedly hear the case.

A lawsuit represents only one side of a legal argument.

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