Council hears police harrassment charge, about traffic woes at Wal-Mart

Published 4:19 pm Wednesday, May 2, 2007

Alleged police harassment and traffic problems were among the top subjects at Picayune’s city council meeting last night.
A concerned citizen addressed the city council at the Tuesday evening meeting concerning an incident involving his child reportedly being harassed by a Picayune Police Department officer while a local developer discussed ways to relieve the growing traffic problem in the Wal-Mart area.
Picayune resident Ike Stewart said recently his child was harassed by an officer with the police department while his son, Christopher, was burying a dead puppy in the back yard. For some reason not known to Stewart, the officer took his handicapped son in his car to question him about a man named Gerod Bickham. Stewart said his son knows nothing about the man.
Stewart said his son was burying the pup because it was run over that day. As he was doing so, the officers took him from the back yard. After taking the boy, the officer then went into Stewart’s home and told Stewart’s wife they were looking for Gerod Bickham. Later that same day a call came to Stewart’s home with “private number” on the caller ID and the caller asked about Bickham.
After taking his son to the car, Stewart said the officer then went into his home while his wife was in her night clothes, unannounced. Stewart did not say if the officers had a warrant or not. Stewart said he was unable to get the officer’s name.
“I just want to know why he’s harassing my son,” Stewart said.
When he went to the department to talk to Chief Jim Luke about the incident, Luke was in a meeting. Stewart said he did not try again to talk to Luke.
“I did not go back because I figured he did not want to talk to me,” Stewart said.
This is not the first time his son has been harassed by the police, Stewart said. A similar incident took place about two years ago.
Councilman Donald Parker said he is aware there are people in all neighborhoods who cause trouble. If people are not committing any crimes they should not be interrogated, he said.
Mayor Greg Mitchell said the matter will be handed to City Manager Ed Pinero Jr. and the issue will be discussed with Luke. Councilman Leavern Guy made a motion that the letter with Stewart’s wife’s statement be submitted as part of the minutes. The motion was approved.
Luke said he will look into the matter but did not have any further comments since he was still investigating the incident.
“I certainly will investigate any complaint that a citizen has,” Luke said.
Some work on the traffic situation around Wal-Mart and Blockbuster stores was requested of the council by shopping center developer A.P. Guizerix. Guizerix showed the council a drawing by his engineer for a new development he has going up.
In that development will be a beauty shop, s restaurant, an Alltell store and an Anytime Fitness location, along with other unnamed commercial enterprises, Guizerix said.
Guy suggested the council and all the businesses in that area partner work together on a bond issue to fund a remedy to the traffic problem.
“This shouldn’t be the city’s sole responsibility to provide access to these businesses,” Guy said.
Guizerix agreed the businesses should work together and said he had some ideas to help finance the project but did not want to elaborate last night.
The tax revenue from businesses inside the city’s limits account for about 48 percent of the general budget, so Mitchell said it is a top priority to get the traffic situation solved.
A Neel-Schaffer Engineering Co. report priced the estimated work at about $739,000, Guizerix said. The council will continue discussions to find funding to resolve the problem, Pinero said.
In other business, the council went into executive session for contractual matters with Mississippi Power on the number of light poles in the city, Phillips Aviation Inc. and the airport to discuss future contracts and lease rate payment changes to cover long term debt on the new T-hangars, on Public Service Commission matters concerning future funding for Dixie Utilities and on a personnel matter. No action was taken on the matters.
The council also:
— Approved a request to publish the flood plain notice in the Picayune Item.
— Approved a change in ordinance so businesses emitting noxious matter can not operate within two miles of a residential area. That change will be published in the paper and will go into effect in 30 days later.
— Accepted an anonymous donation of $1,000 for scholarships for Picayune students.
— Approved donating $500 to Relay for Life.
— Accepted a bid of $1.25 million from Hemphill Construction Company to install new sewer infrastructure in Picayune funded by FEMA grant money.
— Approved a request from Gene Philips of Phillips Aviation Inc. to hold the Old Timers Memorial Fly In on June 2.
The next meeting of the council is at 6 p.m. May 15.

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