Fazende supports officers’ response

Published 11:59 pm Tuesday, May 5, 2009

Poplarville Chief of Police Charles Fazende says additional information supports police actions during a March 5 traffic stop in which a motorist was shot.

“Our guys did a good job that night,” Fazende said. “They did what they were trained to do; they did what they needed to do.”

“There’s no question in my mind that, that his action (the officer who fired) saved lives that night.”

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Kirmon Warren, Jr., driver of the vehicle, received a gunshot wound to the left shoulder during the incident that began after a routine traffic stop escalated out of control.

The local NAACP chapter has said the officer’s response during the incident was excessive. The chapter also has questioned overall police department procedures in questions regarding officer conduct.

A question arising from the traffic stop is whether or not a weapon was in Warren’s possession at the time of the incident.

In an earlier article, the Rev. Jimmy Richardson, local NAACP chapter president, said although officers said they thought they saw a weapon, one was never found and that Warren and his female passenger said there was no gun in the car.

Fazende said the video/audio of the police cruiser’s recorder clearly records one of the other officers — not the officer who fired his weapon — loudly saying the suspect had a gun.

“One of the officers saw him (Warren) reach for a handgun; he actually saw the handle of the handgun,” he said. “Their main concern was safety — safety, safety, safety … and not only the safety of themselves but the safety of that passenger as well.”

Fazende said officers did not perceive Warren’s passenger as a threat.

Fazende said another vehicle had arrived at the checkpoint as the events were transpiring and officers waved it through the checkpoint to protect that vehicle’s driver’s safety.

The three police officers were on the driver’s side of the car, Fazende said. Two were to the left of the open vehicle door and the third officer was toward the rear of the car looking forward toward the open door.

Fazende said the officers in front of the door had a good view of the interior of the vehicle and that one of those officers who reported seeing a gun. Because of their position, they were in the open, unprotected from anyone in the driver’s seat, he said.

The officer toward the rear of the vehicle fired his weapon.

Fazende said that officer had only seconds to determine a course of action, keeping in mind the safety of his fellow officers and the two bystanders, whichwere the driver of the car that had just been waved through scene and the suspect’s passenger, Fazende said.

“He can’t let this guy come out with a gun. That’s why he fired that shot through that (rear side window) glass.”

Following the officer’s firing of his gun, the suspect “immediately put it (the vehicle) in drive and took off,” Fazende said.

Fazende said one of the “big issues” of the incident has been the shooting of an allegedly unarmed man. An exhaustive search had been made for the weapon but over the six-and-a-half miles of pursuit route, it was like looking for a needle in a haystack, he said.

On Monday, April 20, about a month and a half after the incident, a local businessman contacted authorities that a gun had been found on his property. Fazende said the gun was a “real rusted up” Smith and Wesson, .38-caliber, blue steel revolver, but that its serial numbers were intact.

The gun was found in close proximity to the route taken by the fleeing vehicle, he said, but as of yet there was no way to confirm if it was the gun seen by the officer.

The gun has been turned over to the state crime lab for processing. A trace on the gun by the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms has been started but no results have been returned, Fazende said.

He said the report of the Mississippi Bureau of Investigation on the incident will be presented to the Pearl River Grand Jury in June for it to determine if there is any evidence of wrong-doing on the part of the officer.

Fazende did say the Law Enforcement Alliance for Peer Support, or LEAPS, which provides counseling support for law enforcement, released its findings and that the officer was fit for duty.

It was reported earlier that the officer was receiving routine counseling through LEAPS and that the findings of that group had been expected last week.