Mitchell to serve community service

ST. MARTINVILLE — Lawrence Mitchell, husband of St. Martinville Mayor Melinda Mitchell, will be serving 12 eight-hour days of community service during the next month for violating a civil protective order that Mayor Pro Tem Craig Prosper took out against him in January.

In a three-hour hearing Thursday morning, Mitchell’s lawyer, John Milton of Lafayette, brought witnesses to the stand in an attempt to present mitigating circumstances in each of the four incidents Prosper laid out in his complaint.

The four instances included:

A Jan. 29 town hall which Prosper attended at the request of District 1 Councilman Mike Fuselier. Mitchell showed up early for the event, prior to Prosper’s arrival, with his wife.

An April 6 incident at a tire shop on Highway 31 where Mitchell said he stopped and walked into the shop to ask if he could use the shop’s air compressor to put air in his tires, passing near Prosper. Mitchell said he did not see the mayor pro tem until he was leaving the shop. Prosper said Mitchell looked at him and said, “What are you gonna do now?” as he walked past.

A May 10 special council meeting where Mirchell walked into the council chamber, took a seat on the second row of pews in front of Prosper, and leaned forward with his forearms on the back of the seat in front of him. Mitchell said he attended because he thought the protective order had been lifted. He departed after a minute and a half at the request of his wife, the mayor, after Prosper had already left the meeting.

An incident after the May 10 meeting where Mitchell pulled up behind Prosper’s truck as Prosper was leaving. Prosper stopped in front of city hall, talking to another city employee, blocking the street. Mitchell pulled up behind him and leaned on his horn, then made threatening gestures while Prosper said Mitchell’s daughter, a passenger in the truck, videotaped the incident.

In his testimony, Mitchell said Police Chief Ricky Martin told him the order was no longer in effect, a statement Martin denied in his own testimony.

Prosper said previously it was an argument between himself and the mayor that led Mitchell to make threats against Prosper, which formed the basis for the restraining order. According to Prosper, Mitchell cursed and threatened him over the phone with Martin present, saying “I will ******* kill you!”

Martin said he met with Mitchell on May 9, the day before two of the incidents, to tell him the 16th Judicial District Court District Attorney’s office was not pursuing assault charges based on the threat Mitchell made against Prosper.

Mitchell also said he did not depart the Jan. 29 meeting when Prosper arrived because he had arrived at the town hall event first, and that it was up to Prosper to either stay or leave.

In his decision, 16th Judicial District Court Judge Lewis Pitman said that line of thinking basically made a protective order useless.

“If it is up to Mr. Prosper to decide whether to stay or leave — he does not need a protective order to do that,” Pitman said.

Pitman went on to say the basic theme of Milton’s argument — that Mitchell did not understand the protective order or how it would be enforced — was not valid in three of the incidents.

“In his testimony, Mr. Mitchell’s attorney described perfectly how his client should respond if Mr. Prosper walked in while he was at a public place,” Pitman said. “If he was at a restaurant having dinner, he should think of it as if the judge was watching. He could take the time to finish his dinner, pay the bill, then leave. He chose not to do that.”

Pitman also made it clear that he, as the judge who signed the civil protective order, was the only person who could lift it.

Pitman sentenced Mitchell to five days in jail on three of the counts -- the Jan. 29 town hall incident and the two May 10 incidents. He then stated that the three days previously served when Mitchell was arrested in each incident would be applied, and the other 12 days could be served through community service by July 12.

Pitman also said Mitchell was responsible for court costs and will pay $1,500 in legal fees toward Prosper’s attorney costs.

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