KENNETT, Mo. – A black school teacher who claimed white police officers abused and assaulted her agreed Friday to a plea deal.
The deal allows Heather Ellis, 24, to avoid a felony conviction for her part in a January 2007 scuffle that began over cutting in line at a Wal-Mart.
The case drew national attention because of its racial overtones: Ellis is black and the customer she argued with, the assistant store manager and police officers are white.
Race was not prominently discussed in Ellis’ trial. However, prosecutor Morley Swingle said in his closing statement that Ellis and other defense witnesses were trying to portray Kennett, a southeast Missouri town that is about 13 percent black, as “some racist Hooterville.”
The case prompted rallies from both sides of the racial divide. About 100 Ellis supporters rallied Monday, and some of about three dozen counter-protesters showed swastikas or Confederate flags.
Ellis, a Kennett native who now teaches in Louisiana, pleaded guilty to resisting arrest and disturbing the peace. Swingle dropped two felony counts of assault on a law officer. Ellis will be placed on unsupervised probation for a year, but must serve four days in jail. If she completes probation, her record will be wiped clean.
Ellis said it had been worth going to trial this week even though a similar deal had been offered earlier.
“I still think it’s important my story got out,” she said.