JACKSON, Miss. — Seven people, including a former Alabama basketball player and his mother, have been charged with conspiring to kidnap a 6-year-old girl from an east Mississippi elementary school in a plot that allegedly involved a property dispute.
Among those named in a federal indictment unsealed Wednesday was 18-year-old Devonta Pollard, who played this past season as a freshman at the University of Alabama. Prosecutors said his mother, Jessie Mae Brown Pollard, led a scheme to kidnap the girl to pressure the child’s mother in a dispute over some land. At one point, authorities said kidnappers demanded a $50,000 ransom for the girl.
The charges against Devonta Pollard’s mother could carry a life sentence. He and the five other defendants face up to five years in prison. He was released on $10,000 bond.
Assistant U.S. Attorney John Dowdy agreed to his release “with some reservation,” saying he tested positive for marijuana.
Devonta Pollard’s lawyer, Lisa Ross, said he was seeking to enroll at East Mississippi Community College.
“We intend to defend him vigorously,” Ross said. “Of course he’s concerned about his future, athletics aside. He’s concerned about his liberty.”
Prosecutors said Jessie Mae Brown Pollard orchestrated a plan to kidnap the girl from East Kemper Elementary School on April 30.
After picking up the girl with another woman, they said, Pollard went to a hotel and bought a cellphone and texted the child’s mother, stating “don’t call the police I will call you later if you call the police u won’t see her again.”
FBI agents later found receipts for the hotel and cellphone in Devonta Pollard’s car.
Police said they were notified early on about the kidnapping. The girl was eventually returned to her mother safely.
The scheme also allegedly involved a school secretary, Wanda Faye Dancy as well as Shamarious Ruffin; Shaquayla Johnigan; James Johnigan; and Joyce Johnigan. The relationship between them was not immediately clear.
More than 20 family members were in the courtroom, and the prosecutor told a judge that some had been in contact with the girl’s mother. U.S. Magistrate Judge F. Keith Ball warned family members against trying to influence the case and said it could be considered obstruction or witness tampering.
Lawyers for the Johnigans declined to comment.
Jessie Mae Brown Pollard was out of the state for a mental evaluation by authorities and will be arraigned later.