Inmate dies and offenders tagged for tracking

Published 7:49 pm Tuesday, February 13, 2007

Another county inmate death has been reported to the Pearl River County Board of Supervisors, which on Monday also considered tracking juvenile and offenders with a device attached to the ankle could keep county costs down, giving offenders the option to avoid pre-trial jail time.

The death of the county held inmate occurred Sunday at Forrest General Hospital in Hattiesburg. Chief Deputy Julie Flowers said the female inmate, Evelyn J. Merrill, 54, of Picayune, reportedly was throwing up blood when she was taken to Highland Community Hospital, then transferred to Forrest General. Flowers said the inmate had prior health problems and was a City of Picayune Jail transfer as one of the suspects picked up in the Picayune Police Department’s recent drug roundup. An autopsy of the deceased is being conducted.

The board heard a report on tracking juveniles awaiting trail with a device is called the Trackerpal that uses a combination of GPS and cell phone technology to keep tabs on those who have posted bond and are awaiting trial. The voluntary program will give juveniles the option to wear a device on their ankle that enables a central office to monitor their movements. The cost can be paid for by the offender’s family or the county.

Sign up for our daily email newsletter

Get the latest news sent to your inbox

The county is paying about $85 a day to hold juvenile offenders at a facility in Forrest County, District I Supervisor Anthony Hales said. The program could cost the family $100 a week or the county $12 a day, or $84 a week.

While the offender is in the program, he or she is given a predetermined roaming area, which usually includes work and home. Those being monitored are watched for deviations in their travels, said Christy Womak with Court Programs Inc. of Gulfport. Hot zones are set, such could be areas where drug activity is known, and offenders are advised to leave them via the cell phone function of the unit should they happen upon them.

“That’s the most important thing that we’re looking at because it’s a way to know where the juvenile is at,” said County Prosecutor Cheryl Johnson.

If the program becomes widely used for adult offenders as well, then certain health issues can be be dealt with more easily since the offender would be able to seek medical care for themselves while they await trial, Womak said.

“I don’t see where there is a down side to this,” Hales said.

“I don’t think there is a single defendant that would rather be locked up than go on a program like this,” Johnson said.

County Administrator Adrain Lumpkin said juvenile court and justice court will continue to use the devices and they will be considered for use in circuit court.

Another resident expressed his discontent with the various rules and regulations brought on since the storm. Bud Lott said he has been in the process of building a new home in the county since November of 2006. Lott said the Pearl River County Utility Authority and the county wide building codes have caused lots of red tape for him. Apparently, in one incident, he was given varying specifications for a construction project and each time he thought it was done, another inspector would come and say it was wrong.

“I would just like to have a little say so with what I do with my money,” Lott said. “It’s just like a dictatorship.”

Sheriff Joe Stuart presented some drug forfeitures, including a Dodge Stratus and a Buick LeSabre and five different sums of cash. The largest collection of cash was from a Oct. 7, 2006, traffic stop when about $1.5 million was found stashed in a refrigirator truck compartment. Stuart said the department was awarded $821, 601 of that money and the truck and trailer. The board approved the drug forfeitures to be added to the Sheriff’s Department inventory.

Since his department is falling behind on trash pickup in the county, Stuart asked the board if he could hire another guard to head up a second clean-up team.

“It’s a shame we have to do it,” Hales said.

The discussion prompted District IV Supervisor Robert Thigpen to ask how litter enforcement was going in the county.

Chief Deputy Julie Flowers said she had a resident call her upset she had been issued a citation for littering. The resident wanted to know why she was not just given a warning.

“I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again, we need to put those people in orange jump suits and have them picking up trash,” Thigpen said.

The board authorized Stuart to start another litter crew.

Multiple road projects were discussed at the board meeting. Les Dungan with Dungan Engineering said there is a Federal Emergency Management Agency-funded paving project where bids will be opened on March 2. The project aims to widen some roads in the county by about six inches on each side and repair sections of the edges of road that were damaged by heavy trucks. The project is estimated at about $1.6 million and is not a complete overlay project, Dungan said.

Another project is state wide and $2.6 million has been set aside for county road work. The money will be available for all county maintained roads but competition may be stiff since the whole state is able to apply. The project will focus on the most dangerous of county roads. Road Department Manager Mike Mitchell said before Hurricane Katrina an assessment was conducted on such roads and those figures could speed up the application process. No action was taken on the matter.

The last project had four or five bids turned in for work to replace a worn out timber bridge on McNeill McHenry Road. Dungan estimated the cost of the project to be about $227,343.60. The lowest bid of $191,668.20 was turned in by Pearl River Paving Co. LLC. Dungan recommended accepting the lowest bid, which the board did.

The board also:

— Approved travel for Harold Holmes, Bobby Strahan and Julia Anderson to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration Coastal Storms Program scoping meeting in Biloxi on March 15.

— Approved a resolution to honor Willie Ray Penton to name a section of U.S. 11 from Picayune to the Ozona community.

— Approved final plat of Knoll Creek in the Wildwood subdivision.

— Approved adding the roads in Knoll Creek to the county road index with the developer to be responsible for road maintenance for one year.

The next meeting of the board is at 9 a.m. Feb. 26.