Last night, local businessman and media personality Jeff Harding was acquitted by Bay St Louis Municipal Court Judge Stephen Maggio of simple assault and following too closely charges brought against him by Bay St Louis Mayor Les Fillingame’s daughter Katie Stewart. Maggio found Harding guilty of reckless driving for having a vehicle that had engine trouble on the roadways. Harding has not made a decision as to whether or not he will appeal the reckless driving conviction, which stemmed not from the facts alleged in Stewart’s affidavit but rather on defense’s admission the vehicle’s engine would not allow it to exceed 10-15 miles per hour on the roadways.
In her affidavits, Stewart alleged that Harding “did purposely, knowingly and unlawfully attempt to put (Stewart) in fear of imminent serious bodily harm by following her bumper to bumper, blasting horn, putting (her) and her 7-year-old in fear of causing accident or bodily harm”, an assertion that was directly contradicted by video evidence in the form of surveillance camera footage from various local business along the route that showed Harding’s vehicle was at times more than 150 feet behind Stewart, only catching up to her when she brought her vehicle to a virtual stop after hitting the curb at the intersection of Turner Street and U.S. 90 in Bay St Louis. Defense witness Aaron Whitney speculated that Stewart was trying to photograph the “Les Fillin’ Machine” before she sped away down 10th Street to the her parent’s residence, again well ahead of Harding, who apparently only sounded his horn once while passing the Mayor’s house instead of continuously, as alleged by Stewart.
The entire chain of events along the route taken by Stewart and Harding from Bouslog Street to 10th Street was witnessed by a Bay St Louis police officer that followed all of the vehicles. That officer took no action to stop Harding or local businessman Aaron Whitney, who was following Harding due to the poor running condition of the vehicle’s engine.
After the trial, Harding was jubilant, telling Slabbed that he was grateful his lawyer George Healey exposed Stewart’s allegations in a sworn affidavit as a “made up story” in continued acts of retaliation against him for voicing his opposition to Stewart father’s administration, which is currently under investigation by the FBI, ATF and local law enforcement for payroll fraud involving a former Bay police department employee and other acts involving allegations of criminality against former police chief Mike Denardo, who is also alleged to have sold city owned assault rifles and converting the proceedings to his personal use. Denardo committed suicide rather than face arrest by Hancock County Sheriff Rickey Adams.
Wes Muller of the Sun Herald was also in attendance last night and those so interested can read his account of last night’s three plus hour proceedings by clicking Not guilty of assaulting Bay mayor’s daughter. ‘They made up a story’. Dewayne Bremer of the Sea Coast Echo was also in attendance but his account may not hit the internet until Saturday.
I’ll have some additional observations about the expert testimony offered by the prosecution as I found that and Judge Maggio’s reasoning behind his decision to be the most fascinating parts of the trial.