The misdemeanor charge of harassment against former Bayou La Batre Mayor Brett Dungan will be dropped after a 60-day period, according to the Mobile County District Attorney’s office.
Dungan was convicted in a bench trial before District Judge Bob Sherling in June, after an argument with current Mayor Annette Johnson in May prompted her to file charges against Dungan.
At the time, Johnson was a member of the Bayou La Batre City Council and claimed Dungan grabbed her arm repeatedly, struck the council dais in anger and held a gavel over her head in a threatening manner. You can an audio recording from the confrontation here.
Dungan unexpectedly resigned as the city’s mayor on June 27, citing the declining health of his father in Colorado. A few weeks later, Johnson was voted to take his place by a majority of the City Council.After being convicted and sentenced to a $250 fine by Sherling, Dungan opted to appeal the decision to the Mobile County Circuit Court. A jury trial was scheduled for Oct. 7, but hours before, both parties agreed to drop the charges — a measure that will be finalized after a 60-day rest period.
“It’s really what is known as a good behavior period. It’s something we do in a lot of cases, especially misdemeanors when the parties agree they don’t want to go forward,” said Spiro Cheriogotis, the assistant district attorney who prosecuted the case. “In speaking with Mayor Johnson, she just felt like her time was better spent working for the people of Bayou La Batre trying to fix the budget issues they’re facing there.”
Recently, the city has voted to furlough its employees, reduce city hall hours and even create new taxes in an attempt to patch a significant budget shortfall that has left the city struggling just to make payroll. Johnson said addressing that shortfall has been exhausting, and she’d rather focus on that as opposed to her “personal issues with Dungan.”
“Mr. Dungan has moved on,” Johnson said. “Now, the city is moving forward trying to get some things done and trying to resolve some issues we’ve had with his past service to the community. I feel like we’ve done all we can do to resolve this situation and it just needs to end now.”
Dungan’s attorney, Michael Hickman, said the news was a bit surprising, and that Dungan had returned from Colorado to prepare for and attend the trial. Hickman added the state made the offer to drop the charges after discussing the issue with Johnson — something he said was the result of her “chickening out.”
“This is a complete victory for Brett. It’s as good as an acquittal,” Hickman told Lagniappe. “There’s no fine, no court costs and no conviction record. Now we’re just going to move forward with trying to get the record of the arrest expunged.”
In response to Hickman’s statements, Cheriogotis pointed out the state’s case was strong enough to get Dungan convicted in district court and said he remained confident heading into the jury trial.
He also said ending the case was was a decision Johnson reached in the best interest of Bayou La Batre, something she outlined in a letter submitted to the judge presiding over the case.
“(Dungan) is not in a position to do the same thing he did to her again,” Cheriogotis said. “To say this decision is tantamount to an acquittal is silly. The victim and state have taken the high road and allowed him to go on about his business without facing a conviction.”