A Mississippi tea party official with close ties to U.S. Senate candidate Chris McDaniel apparently ended up inside a locked and empty county courthouse late Tuesday night after primary election results had come in.
Hinds County Republican executive chairman Pete Perry told TPM that he received a phone call around 2:00 a.m. CT on Wednesday from Janis Lane, president of the Central Mississippi Tea Party, who said she was locked inside the Hinds County courthouse. That would be where the circuit clerk and election commission offices, and the primary election ballots, are located.
The incident seemed to mystify Perry, a supporter of Sen. Thad Cochran, whom McDaniel is challenging for the GOP nomination. The ballots had been secured prior to the intrusion, according to local authorities.
“I don’t know. I know I wouldn’t walk into a courthouse at 2 o’clock in the morning by myself or with somebody else and just walk around inside the building,” Perry said. “I’m not going to go into a public building just because somehow or another I happened to find a door that was unlocked.
“Especially if it’s going down to where a bunch of election materials were and I’d been deeply involved in a campaign,” he added. “I am 64. I was involved in politics when I was real young, and I remember people breaking into a hotel in the middle of the night.”
Connie Cochran, a sister-in law to Sen. Thad Cochran and one of the county’s election commissioners, told TPM that she left the courthouse at 11:30 p.m. CT, the last person to leave, more than two hours before Lane called Perry.
Lane said that she and a friend had wanted to observe the election process, Perry told TPM. According to Perry, she told him that they had been walking outside of the courthouse and were directed by a police officer to an unlocked door. It’s unclear at what time they entered the courthouse or how much time they spent inside the empty building. Somehow, the door through which they entered got locked behind them, it appears.
Connie Cochran told TPM that, to her knowledge, no materials had been disturbed or removed from the building. But Perry said that he was skeptical of Lane’s story.
“It just didn’t make sense. It didn’t compute,” he said. “Now what she was doing, I have no idea. I couldn’t say. But I am skeptical.”
The Central Mississippi Tea Party endorsed McDaniel in his fight to unseat Cochran in the Republican primary, which is headed for a runoff on June 24 after Tuesday’s election. One of the group’s board members, attorney Mark Mayfield, was arrested in May in connection to the break-in by a McDaniel supporter, who allegedly took pictures of Cochran’s wife at the nursing home where she lives.
Perry said he contacted a Hinds County sheriff’s deputy, who would have the keys to the courthouse, at about 2:45 a.m. CT. Lane called him shortly after 3:30 a.m. ET to tell him that she had been let out of the courthouse, Perry said.
Lane had called Perry earlier in the night, Perry said, asking about election results. He said she appeared to be at either a McDaniel campaign event or at its headquarters.
Lane did not return TPM’s request for comment. A spokesman for the Hinds County sheriff’s office told the Clarion-Ledger that the office had taken a report on the issue, but no investigation was ongoing.
Image: Central Mississippi Tea Party website.