Falsely accused: Man spends months in jail despite video showing he wasn’t at crime scene
GULFPORT, Miss. (WLOX/Gray News) - Imagine being locked up for a crime that you didn’t commit, despite having evidence you were more than 70 miles away at the time it took place. That was the reality for a young Gulfport man after he was accused of murder six years ago.
WLOX reports that Jabarri Goudy, 17, was shot twice outside of a club in Hattiesburg in July 2015. Days later and seventy miles away in Gulfport, Arthur Jones - who goes by AJ - was arrested and charged with the teen’s murder.
Video surveillance, however, showed that Jones was in Gulfport at the time of the shooting. Despite that evidence, authorities proceeded with the charges against him.
For eight months, Jones sat in jail, charged with murdering the teen. Even after the person who shot Goudy was indicted, Jones remained behind bars. He is now sharing his story for the first time in the hope that the same system that falsely accused him will help obtain justice.
Jones has filed a lawsuit against Hattiesburg Police Department, the City of Hattiesburg, and the detective who pursued the charges despite the video evidence.
“I feel like I lost more than two years because, like I said, I have been dealing with this since I was 23,” said Jones. “I’m 29 now, so it’s a lot longer than two years. I’m still dealing with this, in search of justice. My justice.”
Five other suspects connected to Jones were also charged with murder, but those charges were later cleared by the grand jury. Jones’s murder charge, however, was not cleared for more than two years. For eight months of that time, he remained behind bars.
Court documents spell out the facts during and after that July 2015 shooting. The following is a recounting of the murder and investigation as told in the court’s Memorandum and Opinion issued by U.S. District Judge Taylor McNeel on June 28, 2021.
The Night of the Murder
It was just after 2 a.m. on the night of July 5, 2015, when shots rang out in the parking lot of Club Memories in Hattiesburg, leaving 17-year-old Jabarri Goudy in a pool of blood on the pavement.
Goudy was in the parking lot with his friend Clark standing next to a dark-colored car. According to Clark, a black Ford Fusion pulled into the parking lot and the driver began arguing with him and Goudy over a female. The driver then pulled the woman into the car with him and swerved towards the two men.
As the two friends began running away from the car, Clark said the driver pulled out a gun and fired six shots at them. Then, he saw Goudy fall to the ground.
Just hours after the shooting, he told police that there were three people in the vehicle, stating that the driver was “light-skinned, dress in a black V-neck T-shirt, wearing Levi pants and black [Air Force Ones].”
Det. Neal Rockhold with Hattiesburg Police Department was the detective assigned to the shooting of Jabarri Goudy. He began by conducting initial interviews with witnesses at the scene, including Clark, who claimed to be there when it happened.
On the afternoon of July 5, the teenager’s father contacted the detective and told him one of the suspects involved in the shooting was a Black male from Gulfport who he named.
Clark then met with the detective and picked a man out of a six-person photo lineup and provided a written statement saying he was “the passenger in the vehicle that shot Jabarri.” During that same meeting with the detective, Clark was shown a photo of Jones and claimed that he was the person who shot Goudy.
Two days later, Clark was shown another photo lineup of six people and he identified a different suspect as the shooter. Four minutes after that identification, he then picked Jones out again and said he shot Goudy, despite the fact that Jones and the other suspect do not bear any resemblance to one another. Clark then identified a different person as the passenger in the vehicle than the one he had previously identified.
Police showed Clark more photos of women and he picked one out, telling officers he thought she was the female in the car on the night of the shooting. That female was the girlfriend of Jones.
Two witnesses who were outside the club on the night of the murder also selected Jones from a photo lineup, saying that the suspect had dreadlocks.
Shortly after the shooting, photos of Jones began circulating across social media, prompting several people to reach out to police. Some of those people claimed they saw Jones shoot Goudy, but it was later determined that they had not actually seen the shooting.
One of those people included Goudy’s cousin, who was in the vehicle with him when he was taken to the hospital. Immediately after the shooting, Goudy’s cousin told police he did not see the shooter. However, two days later, he picked Jones out of a photo lineup and said he said him flee in a black Honda.
A Plea of Innocence
The day after the shooting, Jones contacted Hattiesburg Police in an effort to clear his name from the accusations being shared on Facebook, adamantly stating that he was not in Hattiesburg at the time of the murder.
Instead, Jones said he and his cousin went to Slidell then came back to Gulfport and went to Club Illusions. Furthermore, Jones told investigators that he would be on the surveillance video at the Gulfport club and encouraged the detective to check it.
The 23-year-old was confident the evidence would show that he was nowhere near Hattiesburg when the shooting took place.
“I expected to immediately be released because I knew I had evidence, surveillance, of me being in Gulfport at the time of the murder but, unfortunately that is not what transpired,” said Jones.
Jones told police about a prior incident that happened where several people from Hattiesburg jumped himself and a friend outside Club Illusions in Gulfport. That event took place a few weeks before the shooting in Hattiesburg, he said. Jones then suggested that the fight could be related to this situation and that someone could be trying to frame him.
In the taped interview with police, Det. Rockhold told Jones there was video evidence of him inside the Hattiesburg club just moments before the shooting took place. Jones showed the detective video of himself that he took on his phone inside the Gulfport club, insisting that he was on the Coast at the time. The detective, however, dismissed that video, saying he thought it was actually taken inside Club Memories, not Club Illusions.
Det. Rockhold then told Jones that his cell phone had pinged in Hattiesburg on the night of the shooting. Later, according to the court documents, the detective would admit that this was a lie. Jones’s cell phone “never connected to or pinged a tower near the city of Hattiesburg on the night of July 4th or the morning of July 5th of 2015,” said the court document.
Additionally, video evidence from Club Illusions in Gulfport shows Jones there at the time of the murder. Despite this evidence, an arrest warrant was issued based on the detective’s affidavit and Jones was charged with first-degree murder.
Multiple times on the night of the murder, Jones was seen on surveillance video at the bar inside Club Illusions, more than an hour away from Hattiesburg.
The timestamp on that surveillance video was determined by investigators to be approximately 45 minutes off. Instead of 2 a.m., for example, the surveillance video showed that it was 2:45 a.m. Rockhold said that he saw Jones’s cousin on the video but said Jones was gone for long enough periods that he could’ve driven 70 miles to Hattiesburg and back. The detective then testified that the drive to Club Memories in Hattiesburg could be done in just 45 minutes.
Later, in his deposition, the detective acknowledged that Jones was actually seen on the surveillance video six times at the Gulfport club between the hours of 1:45 a.m. and 4:03 a.m., making it impossible that he had also been in Hattiesburg at that time.
Despite this revelation, the video was never presented to the court during Jones’ preliminary hearing and the murder charge stuck. Jones remained in jail.
While trying to piece the story together, investigators explored theories as to how the shooting could have been done at the hands of Jones. One of those theories, according to Rockhold’s affidavit, said Jones and his cousin may have used t-shirts that were the same color as the ones they were wearing on July 4 in order to plant lookalikes at Club Illusions who could be spotted on video, helping to provide alibis for the two men.
Rockhold alleged that the owner of Club Illusions and one of the security guards there helped in Jones’s plan by smuggling him back into the club. The detective cited the time clock discrepancy on the surveillance video as evidence of this plan, despite testifying previously that the time clock could not be used to determine whether Jones was at the club or not.
This elaborate theory was also never mentioned in the detective’s 13-page detailed narrative of the investigation or in the arrest warrant; it also wasn’t included in his testimony at the preliminary hearing.
In November, more than five months after the shooting, Det. Rockhold received a call from an inmate who said Tyhecia Bender was the woman in the vehicle the night that Jabarri Goudy was killed. The detective met with Bender, who said she had fallen asleep outside Club Memories in the car of Andreco Guston, her boyfriend at the time.
She said she awoke to shots being fired and the car speeding away. After taking and passing a polygraph, detectives were able to learn other details about the shooting, including the name of the third male passenger inside the car -- James McKenzie.
All three people in the car were arrested in connection to the shooting. Andreco Guston was eventually found guilty in Goudy’s murder. He is now serving a 12-year sentence on the second-degree murder charge.
Weeks later on March 8, 2016, Det. Rockhold acknowledged during an interview with one of the witnesses that Jones and Lee had been misidentified. The detective then requested bond reductions from the prosecutor.
After more than seven months, Jones bonded out on March 12, 2016, after his bond was reduced to $50,000. Despite the bond reduction, the murder charge remained.
For the next year, Jones continued to drive from Gulfport to Hattiesburg once a month to check in for probation under threat of returning to jail.
It wasn’t until March 2017 that Andreco Guston was indicted for the murder of Goudy. Det. Rockhold said he thought Jones would receive a no true bill from the grand jury at that time. It wasn’t until Jones filed suit against the city and the detective that Rockford learned no true bill had been issued and that Jones was still charged with murder.
Charges were dropped for the five people who were initially charged in connection to Goudy’s murder, but Jones remained charged with murder until Oct. 10, 2017.
Jones filed suit against the City of Hattiesburg, Hattiesburg Police Department, and Det. Neal Rockhold in August 2018, alleging false arrest, false imprisonment and denial of a speedy trial.
“Had they gone to the judge in this case, in AJ’s case, and said, ‘Okay, judge, we have an eyewitness who says AJ did it… But judge, three minutes before he said AJ did it, he identified another man.’ Then the judge would say, ‘I’m sorry. I’m not binding this fellow over to the grand jury. Go back and do some more investigation; AJ stays out of jail.’ That’s what should have happened, but in that affidavit, as the court laid out in its opinion, they omitted the truth,” said Jones’s attorney Tim Holleman.
Claiming his rights under the Fourth and Fourteenth Amendments were violated, Jones said he had suffered emotional distress, slander, negligence, malicious prosecution, abuse of process, and reckless disregard for his safety and well-being.
“The system is designed to have checks and balances,” Holleman said. “Well, when law enforcement doesn’t tell the truth, the system fails. The system failed AJ because law enforcement didn’t tell the truth.”
The city has only been *partially* dismissed. They are still liable under the Mississippi Tort Claims Act (MTCA). Holleman said this quote would be correct, “One claim was dismissed against the City, but the City can still be held liable for a claim under the MTCA, which was not dismissed.”
The City of Hattiesburg has since been partially dismissed from the lawsuit, meaning that they can still be held liable under the Mississippi Tort Claims Act. However, a trial date has been set for Nov. 15, 2021 in the case against Det. Rockhold. WLOX reached out to the detective’s attorney, who issued the following statement:
“We are pleased that the City of Hattiesburg has been dismissed in the lawsuit. Detective Rockhold had a very difficult case with a number of witnesses who identified Mr. Jones as the perpetrator of the crime. The Detective relied on the advice of the Forrest Count District Attorney’s office during the course of the investigation. The evidence later revealed the identity of the person who committed the crime and who was ultimately convicted. The law protects the detective with Qualified Immunity and we are confident he will be vindicated at a trial.”
To read the full Memorandum and Opinion issued by the court on June 28, 2021, click here.
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