Aldermen hear community complaints about police response to concert

Published 7:00 am Thursday, September 7, 2017

Members of the community and owners of the Flight 411 entertainment group attended the Poplarville Board of Aldermen meeting Tuesday to share grievances concerning allegations that officers of the Poplarville Police Department acted inappropriately.
The group, represented by Darrick Williams, Danica Hart and Elizabeth Swindle, told the Board that on the night of the Poplarville vs. Picayune game on Aug. 18, they were holding a “Friday Night Lights Rap Concert” at the Pearl River County Fairgrounds when members of the Poplarville Police Department told them they had orders from Chief Butch Raby to shut the event down.
The group told the Board that they believed they completed the proper procedures through the county to rent the space and provide their own security for the night.
Hart told the Board that on the night of the event, Raby spoke with the parking lot attendant then left. Afterward, a Poplarville officer that Hart identified as Bruce Eades pulled up to the event and told some people outside that they were loitering and needed to go inside.
Twenty minutes later, another officer came back and asked what time the event would end, Hart said. The officer, who Hart identified as Joe Bowman, then told organizers that he had direct orders from the chief to shut the event down, she said.
Hart said that Bowman called Raby on his cellphone, after Eades allegedly told him not to do it over the radio, and told organizers they had 15 minutes to end the event.
Hart, Williams and Swindle told the Board they felt discriminated against for putting on a black-focused event and being told to shut it down without cause.
They told the Board that people were dissuaded from attending the event due to the the police presence, causing the organizers to lose money.
Hart said they sat down with Mayor Rossie Creel and Raby after the event, but were unsatisfied with the response and still question whether Raby ordered his officers to shut the event down or if they acted on their own.
Hart, who is originally from Poplarville, said she was saddened by the lack of support in her hometown.
A lot of people claim the incident wasn’t racially fuelled, but she said she wants to see proof.
The organizers said they felt they were targeted and harassed by the police in a threatening manner.
Board Attorney Nick Thompson said Raby has already conducted an internal investigation into the matter and planned to present his findings to the Board in executive session that night.
Members of the audience also spoke to the Board after Creel opened the floor for public comments, before the Board entered into closed session.
Several audience members asked the Board to answer several questions, including why officers were patrolling the event if there was private security, if the officers acted independently, the reason for the event being shut down, whether similar patrols have been conducted at other events with private security, and if the Board admits the company lost attendance and therefore money due to the police presence and cancelling the event early before all performances took place.
Some audience members said as many as five Poplarville Police cars were in the parking lot at one time, and some officers were believed to be from Pearl River Community College.
The Board later entered into executive session to discuss the matter, at which time several city employees were asked to share their side of the story.
Wednesday morning, City Clerk Jane O’Neal said the Board made no decision regarding the alleged racial profiling.
She said the Board is still investigating the situation to compile the facts.
Creel said the city is facing potential litigation and declined to comment on potential actions that could be taken by the city.
He did say though, that suspension of any city employee must be approved by the Board.
“Time will tell,” Creel said, adding that as of Wednesday, the matter was not on the agenda for next week’s meeting to approve the budget and handle other routine business.
“We as a Board and a city recognize that across this country there are racial tensions,” he said.
“We as an administration are committed to doing whatever we need to do to release those tensions.”
Creel said such an effort could include diversity training for city employees or establishing a committee to combat racial inequality.
“There’s absolute dissatisfaction,” Creel said on the part of the event organizers and those who attended the meeting.
Attempts to reach the event organizers were unsuccessful by press time Wednesday.
The Board recessed the meeting until Sept. 12 at 5 p.m. in City Hall.

Sign up for our daily email newsletter

Get the latest news sent to your inbox

About Julia Arenstam

Staff Writer

email author More by Julia