NAACP seeks investigation

Published 1:30 pm Tuesday, April 14, 2009

The Poplarville Board of Aldermen have been formally asked to review a decision allowing a city police officer to return to duty following a March 5 shooting incident that occured at a traffic check point.

Kirmon Warren, Jr., was wounded in his left shoulder during the incident after the officer discharged his weapon through the left rear window of the car Warren was driving. Initial reports said the weapon was fired after a struggle had started between Warren and an officer.

The Rev. Jimmy Richardson, president of the Pearl River County Chapter of the NAACP, made the request at the aldermen’s meeting last Tuesday.

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“We have some concerns about the citizens in Poplarville as far as this young man’s (the officer) mental state of mind,” Richardson said.

While the investigation into the incident is in progress, the local NAACP is asking that the officer be placed on administrative leave — “taken off the streets” — and have the officer evaluated by a psychiatrist, Richardson said.

“This is what we came here tonight for, to ask you guys to take another look at it and not just let the chief of police (Charles Fazende) make that decision because he’s not qualified to make that decision whether or not the young man is actually mentally fit … not saying that he (Fazende) didn’t make the best decision.”

Fazende had said his decision to allow the officer back on duty came after a his review of the incident and discussions with the officer.

Richardson said he understands that standard procedure in cases such as this require that the officer in question be placed on administrative leave while the matter is under investigation. Also, he said the group was not making a judgement one way or the other, only that the officer should be professionally evaluated to determine his fitness for duty.

When Richardson asked if the officer was still working regular patrol duties, Poplarville Mayor Billy Spiers said he was. The officer had taken five days off following the incident.

Richardson said he has talked with several citizens around the city and the officer’s being on regular duty appears to be a major concern.

“You never know what’s going to come up. ..,” Richardson said. “What if another roadblock comes up. Will he act in a professional manner? That’s a concern of ours.”

Spiers said the officer has been before a law enforcement counseling group (Law Enforcemen Alliance for Peer Support — LEAPS) and is getting counseling concerning the incident.

Spiers also said the city is in the process of getting samples of policies and procedures from other cities to be able to update Poplarville’s guidelines.

“We are making steps to fulfill your wishes,” Spiers said. “We are making strides.”

Richardson repeated an earlier statement that he believes Warren’s and his companion’s civil rights had been violated because no weapon had been found in their possession. Richardson had said in an earlier article the alleged presence of a weapon was given as justification for the officer’s actions.

“It would appear that the officer actually acted in an excessive manner because he did shoot him from the back from a tinted window, outside of a tinted window into a tinted window,” Richardson said. “We’re here because we have the city of Poplarville’s best interest at heart … because it is our city and we want to see the city safe.”

He said city police do a great job and “we hope that this is an isolated incident, but it is an incident that does need attention.”

Alderman Bill Winborn asked Richardson if the group would be satisfied with the recommendation of the LEAPS board, regardless of what that recommendation might be — for or against the officer staying on the street.

Richardson said he and the NAACP chapter would, as long as the officer “continued to be evaluated,” but said he was told the FBI still intended to investigate the matter once the state of Mississippi was through with its review, as reported earlier.

In the event the officer was placed on administrative leave, Spiers said he was concerned about the police force being short an officer on the street for the duration of the investigation, but said the city would follow whatever was recommended.

“If they recommmend ‘Naw, he doesn’t need to be on the street,’ we’ll take him off the street.”

Spiers, who had anticipated getting the LEAPS findings last Thursday, said in a telephone interview Friday that no results of the investigation had been released yet. He said Tim Rutledge, the state director for LEAPS, is scheduled to meet in Poplarville with the officer this week.

Following that meeting, Spiers said he would contact each alderman individually about the city’s next step.