Friday Morning, July 10, I secured a short interview with Willie Meggs, the long tenured State Attorney for Leon County. His jurisdiction includes the City of Tallahassee and as such, he makes the decision on whether to charge residents of the city, which includes athletes from Florida State University. As some may recall, it was his decision not to prosecute Jameis Winston, a decision for which he was widely reviled by many corners of sports and national media who chose to hide behind their interpretation of his “Lack of seriousness” at the press conference announcing the decision. Left out of that analysis, however, was his contemporaneous and aggressive sexual assault prosecution of starting wide receiver Greg Dent, as well as previous prosecutions of FSU football players.
I wrote an analysis of the case for AVFM here.
In the wake of the De’Andre Johnson case, Meggs’ office again finds itself at the center of media discourse on gender violence. Johnson was involved in an altercation at a local bar on June 24 which ended with him striking a female patron to her face. In the interest of providing clarity for AVFM readers and the issues which concern our board, I wanted to get some answers from his office on key aspects of the case and, more importantly, the decision-making process in deciding who to charge, and with what.
To my pleasant surprise, Meggs graciously took my call himself. His comportment was every bit the direct but courtly southern gentleman of law figure he cuts on television. Engaging, honest, friendly, firm, and quick-minded. He was quick to interject to correct where he felt we “had it wrong,” but never in a rude way.
The following are some key highlights of the interview.
What are the potential penalties facing Mr. Johnson, and how are cases such as his usually disposed of for a first offender.
Meggs: Well, for 1st degree battery, the maximum penalty is a year in the county jail. Now, there are two types of battery in these cases. The first, is to touch or strike another without consent. The other is to strike with the intent to cause harm. Now it’s hard for me to say how cases typically are disposed because we weigh a variety of factors when charging: capability of the victim to defend; age; size; for example, how old are you?
Meggs: OK, so if you hauled off and battered a six-year-old, we’d put your fannie in jail [laughs on both ends of the call]
Speaking of children, some of our readers and staff feel based on the footage that maybe the woman should have also been charged, based on the footage, because they were both “acting like children”[Meggs firmly but politely interjects]
Meggs: Well, you’re wrong on that. Now it’s not illegal to be wrong, and everyone has a right to be wrong, and that includes (Johnson attorney Jose) Baez (who said the footage shows Johnson was not the “initial aggressor”), Sean Hannity, and even your editorial board. But those are not the facts of the case as we see it. People have a right to defend themselves from a battery
[Note: Meggs stated the previous day to the Tallahassee Democrat that the woman was defending herself, and “entitled” to throw a punch, and “did not commit a crime and therefore will not be charged with a crime”]
In your eyes, with regard to the charging decision, what was the initial “battery” by Johnson?
Meggs: Hitting someone in the nose
I meant before that. You stated she was defending herself from a battery. Which of the initial acts constituted a battery? Was it the initial jostle? Him grabbing her arm to prevent her closed fist from hitting him? And what is a proportional response to the threat from a balled fist?
Meggs: We’re not gonna try the case in the papers, We’re gonna try the case in a court of law. Some may want to try the case in outside of court, but that’s not what we’re going to do.
On an editorial note, it’s my opinion you were treated unfairly by the national media in the Winston case. If you were the Florida St. toadie they made you out to be, you would not have charged the 7 or 8 athletes you have in the past.
Meggs: Well I appreciate that. It’s part of what I’ve come to expect with the job. Not to say that I like it, but I understand. You know, when we have a football player [get into trouble] I like to say it’s like putting a spoonful of scalding hot soup in your mouth;whatever you do next is gonna be wrong.
UPDATE: Yet another Florida State player is wanted in connection with another assault on a woman in a separate incident. Meggs has issued a warrant for the arrest of running back Dalvin Cook. The report from mark Schlabach is here.