Tommy Beadle, mother of Patrick Steve Beadle,outside of the Madison County circuit court in Canton before her son’s sentencing hearing Monday, September 24, 2018. 

On the morning of March 7, 2017, Oregon-based, medical marijuana card-carrying musician Patrick Steve Beadle was driving through Mississippi to pay “homage to B.B. King’s homeland,” as he later wrote.

Beadle was southbound on I-55 and had crossed from Yazoo into Madison County. A few seconds later, a Madison County sheriff’s deputy pulled him over. A search of Beadle’s car revealed 2.8 pounds of marijuana.

Following a trial in July, a jury took 25 minutes to find him guilty of charges that could land him in prison for up to 40 years without parole. Beadle, who is African American, and his allies say the fact that he was pulled over is a clear case of racial profiling while law enforcement officials maintain that a traffic violation led to the stop.

The case brings back into focus a pending class-action lawsuit against the Madison County Sheriff’s Department filed earlier this year by the American Civil Liberties Union, alleging that the department unconstitutionally targeted black people through traffic stops, roadblocks, arrests and citations.

The ACLU found that black people are nearly five times more likely than white people to be arrested in Madison County. Though 38 percent of Madison County’s population is black, they accounted for 77 percent of arrests and 72 percent of citations by the sheriff’s department between 2012 and 2017.

A Mississippi Today analysis of those claims found that black people account for a disproportionate number of drug charges in Madison County, higher than in both neighboring Rankin County and the state as a whole.

Beadle, whose case was first featured this month in the Clarion Ledger, is a practicing Rastafarian — a religious movement whose followers make use of marijuana for medical purposes — and an Oregon resident in possession of a medical marijuana card, factors which should be considered in his sentence, his lawyers argued at his sentencing earlier this week. Beadle maintains that while he possessed the drug, he was not trafficking, which carries a lengthy sentence.

On Monday, Madison County circuit court judge William Chapman announced he was continuing the sentencing to next month. He said he needed more time to contemplate what he’d seen and heard that day.

“He ain’t in Madison County five seconds when he’s chased down and brutalized”

The night before Beadle, 46, was supposed to be sentenced, his mother Tommy paced outside her hotel in Canton, waiting for a call from Patrick’s lawyer.

Tommy Beadle had driven to Mississippi from Pensacola, Fla., where she resides, over the weekend, as she’d done multiple times in the last year and a half since her son was pulled over near Canton in March 2017. During that stop, a Madison County sheriff’s deputy placed him under arrest for careless driving, resisting arrest and drug trafficking.

The one date Tommy Beadle didn’t attend was the trial itself — the sheriff’s office had already dropped charges of careless driving and resisting arrest, and she thought they would also drop the trafficking charge. On July 30, it took 12 white jurors 25 minutes to convict Beadle on possessing marijuana with intent to distribute. Would it have made a difference had Tommy Beadle attended the trial, she wondered to herself?

“It would have made a difference for me right now, that I was there, but it wouldn’t make none to them,” Tommy Beadle said in an interview with Mississippi Today.

Then-deputy Joseph Mangino, now a Pearl police officer, testified at the trial that Beadle had crossed the fog line on the right side of the road twice and then followed another vehicle too closely before Mangino pulled him over on I-55 south.

Mangino then noticed a “strong, overwhelming” smell of marijuana coming from the car, he testified. Though Mangino asked Beadle to get out of the car “twenty, maybe thirty times,” Beadle refused, leading Mangino to use a Taser on Beadle, Mangino testified. Deputies then searched and found three shrink-wrapped plastic packages of marijuana hidden in the car, but did not find weapons, scales or baggies for distribution.

Beadle maintains that he is a victim of racial profiling, an argument brought forth by defense attorney Randy Harris in his closing argument at the trial: “And it is true, he’s a black man. He’s got these braids. He’s got an out-of-state license tag, and we all know that in the past there has — this racial profiling has raised its ugly head all over this country unfortunately.”

“And here’s Patrick Beadle from Oregon, and he’s driven his Jeep all the way from Oregon, apparently without incident because he made it here,” Harris continued. “And he ain’t in Madison County five seconds when he’s chased down and brutalized by Joe Mangino.”

In Madison County, drug dispositions between 2013 and 2017 – that is, drug charges settled in those years – neared 1,000, based on data provided by the Administrative Office of Courts. Of those total charges, only two people were found guilty by a jury as Beadle was, Mississippi Today found. Out of all the drug dispositions, about three in five were faced by African Americans.

That discrepancy goes up when looking only at guilty pleas. The majority of defendants pled guilty to over 600 charges in Madison County during that timeframe. About 66 percent of those individuals were black – though black people make up only 38 percent of the county’s population – while 32 percent were white.

The racial discrepancy is greater than that of neighboring Rankin County, which shares a judicial district with Madison. Of some 1750 Rankin County drug dispositions in the last five years, about 26 percent of those were faced by black people, who make up 20.6 percent of the county.

Black people accounted for 46.1 percent of drug dispositions across the state of Mississippi between 2013 and 2017; the state’s population is 37.8 percent black.

Lawyer: If it’s legal in Oregon, what about Mississippi?

On Monday, Beadle’s family, friends and a group of activists who had driven up from Jackson filled two benches in the courtroom as his lawyers argued that Judge Chapman should sentence Beadle to less than the 10 to 40 years required by the state statute, which includes conditions under which a sentence may be reduced.

Patrick Steve Beadle, who performs under the name Blackfire

A central component of the argument his lawyers and mother posed in front of the judge was that Beadle used marijuana for medical and religious purposes, but was not a drug trafficker. They also pointed out that Beadle was legally allowed to use marijuana in his resident state of Oregon, and that Chapman should take the chaotic nature of shifting social mores and the accompanying changes in state laws across the country into consideration.

Beadle, his mother and his lawyers say, was law-abiding, with no prior felony record. (He was charged with marijuana possession in Georgia in 2009, but not convicted.) He used marijuana only as part of his religion, they said.

“I would not stand here for even a moment if I believed he was trafficking,” Tommy Beadle told the judge.

The statute Beadle was convicted under is a drug-trafficking provision that was expanded in 2014, when the distinction between possession and trafficking of marijuana was redefined under HB 585, a sweeping criminal justice reform bill that aimed at cutting corrections costs in Mississippi.

Lauded for helping lower the state’s prison population, HB 585 also expanded exactly what constituted drug “trafficking.” Prior to the law’s passage, possession of over one kilogram of marijuana was charged solely as possession; that penalty was six to 24 years in prison, with a fine of no more than $500,000.

The 2014 law aimed to “recognize the distinction between an addict, who there may be hope of rehabilitation, and a trafficker,” said agriculture commissioner Andy Gipson, the bill’s architect and then a state representative, at the time.

Moreover, Beadle’s other attorney Cynthia Stewart called the country “in a state of chaos” concerning rapidly shifting marijuana laws across states, with even “legitimate people” advocating for medical marijuana in Mississippi this year, she said.

“And while I am well aware that it is illegal in this state, this is somebody that was passing through this state,” Stewart said, adding that this should be a “very, very significant mitigating factor” in Beadle’s sentence.

“In five years, this may not even be a crime,” Stewart said.

But even per Oregon state law, it is illegal to transport marijuana outside of the state or to possess more than 24 ounces, assistant district attorney Todd McAlpin rebutted. And had Beadle – who did not testify – driven straight from Oregon to Mississippi, he would have had to pass through at least five states in which marijuana is not legal under state law, McAlpin said.

Chapman, on his part, did not find the religious argument very persuasive, he said. And though he acknowledged that there is “great debate in our society about the use of marijuana,” he argued that it is “a slippery slope” if a Mississippi judge starts to sentence defendants based on what is legal in other states.

If Chapman chooses to mitigate Beadle’s sentence, Beadle could serve as little as 2.5 years in prison, per state law that allows judges to prescribe a sentence no less than 25 percent of the mandatory sentence if certain conditions are met.

“The question is the wisdom (of) long sentences for marijuana useres, when the national trend appears otherwise,” said Matt Steffey, a professor at the Mississippi College Law School.

No matter what the sentence will eventually be, the discretionary nature of sentencing – in which a judge considers many aspects of a case, including an individual’s prior history, likelihood to be a threat, or ability to offer restitution – makes it hard to generalize how one sentence can affect another, Steffey said.

“And certainly, whatever a particular trial judge does has no binding effect whatever on any other judge, or any binding effect on this judge in a future case,” Steffey said. “Nobody is bound to follow this example, whatever this example says.”

Delayed until next month, a mother returns home

But Chapman was impressed with Beadle’s mother’s testimony, he said. He needed more time to think about the sentence, he added, continuing the hearing to Oct. 15. Beadle, who did not speak at the sentencing, remains in the Madison County jail.

Though he was born in Jamaica, his mother said, Beadle had grown up in the United States, going to high school in Maryland, majoring in biology and biochemistry in college, and even spending two years at medical school on a scholarship before he decided to drop out and help people in other ways, including teaching English in the Gambia and building houses with Habitat for Humanity.

Beadle’s songs have garnered over 40,000 hits on social media, as his attorney pointed out at Beadle’s sentencing Monday.

And he was in the midst of trying to gain custody of his eight-year-old son in Cincinnati, Harris said, as he handed a photo of Beadle and his son to the judge.

Stewart, one of Beadle’s attorneys, said they will be appealing the case and filing a motion for a new trial regardless of Beadle’s sentence.

Tommy Beadle, who now faced making the long drive back to Pensacola without any clear answers about her son’s future, said she’d be back in October.

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Michelle Liu was a 2018 corps member for Report for America, a national service program that places talented journalists in local newsrooms. She covered criminal justice issues across the state from June 2018 until May 2020. Prior to joining the Mississippi Today team, her work appeared in the New Haven Independent.