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October 20, 2016

Former JPD Officer Sentenced to 27 Months in Prison

By Tim Summers Jr.

Verbatim from the Department of Justice:

"Jackson, Miss – Bryan Jones, 45, of Jackson, was sentenced by U.S. District Judge Dan Jordan to 27 months in federal prison followed by three years of supervised release for extortion by use of his position as a police officer, announced U.S. Attorney Gregory K. Davis and FBI Special Agent in Charge Donald Alway.

While working as a JPD officer, Jones violated the Hobbs Act by taking cash during a stop from undercover FBI agents and never recording or placing the money in Jackson Police Department evidence. At the time of the stop, Jones was carrying his service pistol holstered on his belt and driving his patrol car.

A confidential source called Jones in order to provide him with the location where he would find who Jones thought was a drug dealer but was really an undercover agent. Jones, acting in his capacity as a police officer, conducted illegal searches and seized $4,000 and $5,000, respectively. He later split the money with the confidential source and never recorded the money or turned it over to the Jackson Police Department.

This case was investigated by the FBI and the Jackson Police Department. It was prosecuted by Assistant U.S. Attorneys Mary Helen Wall and Erin Chalk."

October 20, 2016

Watch Marvel's Doctor Strange Premiere Live

By Todd Stauffer

Marvel's Doctor Strange is coming to the big screen, beginning with a premiere in Hollywood. Watch the AP stream live here.

October 17, 2016

MDEQ Issues Water Contact Advisory for Terrapin Skin Creek in Rankin County

By Tim Summers Jr.

Verbatim Release from the Mississippi Department of Environmental Quality:

"(JACKSON, Miss.) – The Mississippi Department of Environmental Quality (MDEQ) issued a water contact advisory Monday for a segment of Terrapin Skin Creek in Rankin County. The advisory extends on the creek from just above Highway 80 in Brandon to where it crosses Highway 18 (see attached map).

MDEQ recommends that people avoid water contact such as swimming, wading, and fishing in that section of the creek. People should also avoid eating fish or anything else taken from these waters until further notice. MDEQ will monitor the water quality in the creek and will revise the advisory as needed.

The advisory is being issued due to a break in a small, four inch line from a commercial building that is discharging sewage into Terrapin Skin Creek. In addition, the creek is backflowing this water into the city’s main sewer line. The city is excavating this line to determine the extent of the problem and make repairs. MDEQ will remain in contact with city officials and adjust the advisory if necessary."


October 14, 2016

Factchecking Mississippi Governor Comments on Clinton, Abortion and Religion

By adreher

Gov. Phil Bryant says Constitutional rights are at risk this presidential election, in an email sent from the Mississippi GOP. "The next President will fill Justice Antonin Scalia’s vacancy and will likely appoint three or four additional Justices to the U.S. Supreme Court. Putting liberals on the court could set back the conservative movement by decades," the email says.

"We know what kind of Supreme Court Justices Hillary Clinton would appoint if she were elected President," the email continues. "And she has not been bashful about it either when she’s said."

The email then lists the following three quotes from Clinton:

1) “The Supreme Court is wrong on the Second Amendment [referring to the Supreme Court’s decision in Heller, which affirmed individual gun rights]. And I am going to make that case every chance I get.”

2) “The unborn person does not have constitutional rights.”

3) “Deep-seated religious beliefs have to be changed.”

For some fact-checks and context around those quotes, see below:

"Far too many women are still denied critical access to reproductive healthcare and safe childbirth. All the laws we've passed don't count for much if they're not enforced. Rights have to exist in practice, not just on paper. Laws have to be backed up with resources and political will, and deep-seated cultural codes, religious beliefs and structural biases have to be changed. As I have said and as I believe, the advancement of the full participation of women and girls in every aspect of their societies is the great unfinished business of the 21st century."

The deep-seated cultural codes, religious beliefs and structural biases Clinton referenced in this speech had everything to do with ...

October 12, 2016

Gov. Bryant Hosts Reception for the Heritage Foundation

By adreher

Gov. Phil Bryant hosted former U.S. Sen. Jim DeMint (SC) and representatives from the Heritage Foundation at the Governor's Mansion on Tuesday night for a reception in Gov. Bryant's honor for receiving the prestigious Conservative Leadership Award, an honor he received for signing House Bill 1523 into law (even though it didn't actually become law) last month in Washington, DC.

“I am humbled to be recognized as a Conservative Leader by this outstanding organization. It's the greatest professional honor of my career," Bryant said in a press release from the Mississippi GOP. "Standing together, we can right America and make it that shining city on a hill once more. Mississippi has become a beacon to the rest of the nation.”

Demint is the president of the conservative Heritage Foundation, which has managed to influence many of Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump's policy platforms and U.S. Supreme Court nominee list. Demint left Congress back in 2012 to take his role as president of the foundation.

"I'm leaving the Senate now, but I'm not leaving the fight. I've decided to join The Heritage Foundation at a time when the conservative movement needs strong leadership in the battle of ideas," Demint said in a statement in 2012.

Part of that "fight in the conservative movement" came to Mississippi during the 2016 legislative session when the Mississippi Legislature passed House Bill 1523. Demint wrote an article (posted on the Daily Signal, the media arm of the Heritage Foundation) praising Gov. Bryant's "courage" back in April for signing the bill into law.

October 11, 2016

AG Hood Recovers $33 Million, Wants to Use Funds to Offset Budget Cuts

By adreher

The attorney general's office recovered $33.95 million and delivered that money to the state Treasury on Monday. In a press release, Attorney General Jim Hood encouraged the Mississippi Legislature to use the money to offset budget shortfalls for vital state services.

“Hopefully, this will undo some of the damage inflicted to agency budgets because of state leaders’ untimely devotion to tax breaks for big businesses,” Hood said in the release. “Those misguided corporate tax cuts along with the problems associated with Senate Bill 2362 and the Legislature’s mathematical error have led to a reduction of beds at the State Hospital, layoffs at the Department of Revenue and the Forestry Commission, and closure of National Guard armories. Lawmakers will fall far short of collecting the $188 million that they anticipated collecting in the special funds sweep, and I’m concerned that there are more significant budget cuts ahead.”

The majority of the $33,951,305 is from a judgment against pharmaceutical manufacturer Sandoz Inc., which defrauded the state by manipulating the prices it charged for its drugs to the state Medicaid program.

October 10, 2016

State Political Leaders React to Donald Trump's 'Locker Room Talk,' Second Debate

By adreher

After the Washington Post released a 2005 video recording of Donald Trump and Billy Bush having a lewd conversation about permissible ways to treat women, several former Trump supporters backed away from their endorsements. Among these politicians were Alabama Gov. Robert Bentley and two Alabama members of Congress.

Mississippi political leaders, however, did not back off their endorsements. Lt. Gov. Tate Reeves did tweet his disapproval with Trump's remarks on Oct. 8.

"As a dad of girls, @realdonaldtrump's remarks on video are reprehensible and outside the bounds of decency. I hope his apology is sincere," Reeves tweeted on Oct. 8.

Trump issued an apology in a short video later, but defended the discussion as "locker room talk" in the second presidential debate on Sunday.

The Mississippi Democratic Party released a statement in response to Trump's views on sexual assault last Friday.

"It was revealed this afternoon that the Republican presidential nominee continues to hold astonishing views about how he can get away with sexual assault. Yet, not a single Republican statewide or legislative leader has called his actions deplorable," the statement says. "America deserves better leadership than this, and voters should remember his words when they vote on November 8th."

Following the debate, Gov. Phil Bryant did not back off his endorsement of Trump, and on Facebook, he said issues like repealing Obamacare and appointing judges to the U.S. Supreme Court were at stake in the election.

"Tonight, Donald Trump focused on issues important to the American people -- securing our borders, rebuilding our economy and repealing and replacing Obamacare. Bill Clinton was correct when he called it the craziest thing in the world. It was good to see most of this debate centered on things that are important to Americans," Bryant said in a Facebook post on Sunday. "Hillary Clinton spent the evening proposing the same policies that have failed for 30 years, including appointing liberal judges to the Supreme Court who would advance the Left's agenda rather than respect the Constitution. Most conservatives understand this election is about the United States Supreme Court and the future of our country."

Thus far, no state political leaders who formally endorsed Trump have swayed in their support of the Republican presidential candidate. The deadline for Mississippians to register to vote was on Saturday.

October 7, 2016

Community Leaders Call on Gov. Bryant to Apologize During 'Racial Reconciliation Month'

By adreher

Community leaders will hold a press conference at the Mississippi State Capitol next week to call on Mississippi Gov. Phil Bryant to issue an apology to Mississippians during “Racial Reconciliation Month”.

They are asking Gov. Bryant to apologize for his refusal to back the removal of the Confederate symbol from the Mississippi flag, and for his declaration of the month of April as "Confederate Heritage Month," a press release says.

Duvalier Malone, a Mississippi native, who was a part of the Take It Down America movement, which culminated in a rally in Washington, DC to bring awareness to the Mississippi state flag, is helping to organize the press conference next Thursday, October 13 at the Capitol at 11 a.m.

In order for any reconciliation to take place, the Governor and the state of Mississippi must first join the rest of America in the denunciation of the Confederate emblem, and all that it stands for, Malone said in a press release. Malone has spoken on how hate crimes link the Confederate symbol to the swastika, the emblem of Nazi Germany.

“It's time for us to recognize that although the Confederate symbol and the Nazi symbol originate from different countries," he said in a press release. "They are equals in terms of hate, intolerance and bigotry.”

October 5, 2016

Gov. Bryant Declares October 'Racial Reconciliation Celebration Month'

By adreher

Today, Gov. Phil Bryant declared October "Racial Reconciliation Celebration Month," only six months after he declared April "Confederate Heritage Month" earlier this year.

Gov. Bryant's declaration is in coordination with Mission Mississippi, a religious racial reconciliation organization, that is hosting a series of events in October to promote "the unifying message of racial reconciliation and healing that can enhance and improve the lives of citizens, businesses and communities in Mississippi," the proclamation states.

Racial Reconciliation Celebration Month is "to encourage all of our citizens to collaboratively and faithfully join Mission Mississippi in the work of promoting racial reconciliation and healing and to bring about unity throughout Mississippi."

Read the full proclamation here.

October 5, 2016

Former Bondsman Pleads Guilty to Fraud

By Tim Summers Jr.

Verbatim from the Department of Justice, Southern Division:

Jackson, Miss – Lance Scott, 46, of Brandon, pled guilty on October 4, 2016, before Senior U.S. District Judge David Bramlette, to an Indictment charging him with mail fraud, announced U.S. Attorney Gregory K. Davis and FBI Special Agent in Charge Donald Alway.

Scott is a former bondsman licensed with the Mississippi Department of Insurance who worked in the Hinds, Rankin, and Madison Counties.

During the plea hearing, Scott admitted that he solicited premium payments from individuals that bonded out of jail on fraudulent bonds he created from October 2014 through May 2015. Scott took the money in exchange for submitting fraudulent bonds in Hinds County to have individuals released from jail. These bonds were never secured by American Surety Company, the surety insurer, because Scott failed to notify or send any portion of the premiums to American Surety. Scott submitted approximately $1,085,000 in fraudulent bonds in Hinds County during the scheme.

Scott will be sentenced by Senior United States District Judge David Bramlette on January 10, 2017 at 10:30 am. He faces a maximum penalty of 20 years in federal prison and a $250,000 fine.

This case was investigated by the Federal Bureau of Investigation and the Mississippi Insurance Commissioner’s Office. The case is being prosecuted by Assistant United States Attorney Mary Helen Wall.

October 4, 2016

Community Stakeholders Ask Lawmakers to Address Mental Health Needs

By adreher

Community stakeholders sent a letter to lawmakers on the Health Budget Review Committee asking them to take several steps in working to reform the state's mental healthcare system and focus more community-based mental healthcare.

The letter is reproduced in full below:

Dear Members of the Legislative Mental Health Tax and Budget Review Committee:

We, the undersigned stakeholders, appreciate the concern you have shown by your close examination of the state's mental health budget. But we fear that you and the legislature are ignoring a much more fundamental and dire issue, and what is actually the real problem: Our State's mental health system is antiquated and costly, both in dollars but even more in human lives.

Because our system overly relies on expensive institutional care in state hospitals and other long term care facilities, Mississippi has not developed to scale the types of services in the community that we know will most help people. As a result, many people are torn away from their families and communities. That is unfair to them and violates their basic civil rights. It also deprives us of benefiting from their presence and their contributions. And perhaps most importantly in your examination of the mental health budget, this over reliance on institutional care is why Mississippi is being sued by the Justice Department. In fact, the DOJ has actively promoted community-based services as a means of preventing the needless isolated institutionalization of people with mental illness.

With early and effective intervention, almost all adults and children with mental illnesses can and want to be part of their families, meaningfully contribute to their communities, and work and/or go to school, outside of institutions. It is alarming to us that your budget discussions have started with the assumption that mental health care is best delivered through institutions. That assumption is not true. It is also harmful. You as legislators are in a unique position to transform our mental health system and bring it into the 21st century.

These are some steps that we strongly urge you to take:

  • Meet directly with your constituents with mental illness and their families and ask them about their experiences with the mental health system and what would help them live productive lives. We encourage you to hold public hearings throughout the state.

  • Visit the Community Mental Health Centers and mental health nonprofits in your district and find out what support they need to deliver these kinds of services. Find out how effectively the money you appropriated is being spent and what support mental health centers need to maximize the impact of the funds.

  • Reach out to your counterparts in other states that have transitioned to an effective community-based system to learn how they did it. New Hampshire, Delaware and Georgia are recent examples.

  • Partner with the consumer and family organizations that represent people with mental illness. They can and are willing to provide you data, help you gather feedback ...

October 3, 2016

Health Officials Confirm Four New Case of West Nile Virus

By Tim Summers Jr.

Verbatim from the Mississippi State Department of Health:

JACKSON, Miss. – The Mississippi State Department of Health (MSDH) reports four new human case of West Nile virus (WNV), bringing the 2016 state total to 26. The reported cases are in Forrest, Hinds, Jackson and Lamar counties.

So far this year, human cases of WNV have been reported in Calhoun, Chickasaw, Copiah (2), Forrest, Hinds (7), Grenada, Jackson, Lamar (3), Lee, Leflore, Lincoln, Lowndes, Marion (2), Perry and Rankin (2) counties. There has been one WNV death reported in a Hinds County resident. The MSDH only reports laboratory-confirmed cases to the public. In 2015, Mississippi had 38 WNV cases and one death.

Symptoms of WNV infection are often mild and may include fever, headache, nausea, vomiting, a rash, muscle weakness or swollen lymph nodes. In a small number of cases, infection can result in encephalitis or meningitis, which can lead to paralysis, coma and possibly death.

The MSDH suggests the following precautions to protect yourself and your environment from mosquito-borne illnesses: · Use a mosquito repellent with an EPA-registered ingredient such as DEET while you are outdoors. · Remove all sources of standing water around your home and yard to prevent mosquito breeding. · Wear loose, light-colored, long clothing to cover the arms and legs when outdoors. · Avoid areas where mosquitoes are prevalent.

For more information on mosquito-borne illnesses, visit the MSDH website at HealthyMS.com/westnile and HealthyMS.com/zika. Follow MSDH by email and social media at HealthyMS.com/connect.

October 3, 2016

Jackson Online Tax-Forfeited Property Auction Garners 1,503 Bids

By Tim Summers Jr.

Verbatim from Mississippi Secretary of State Delbert Hosemann's office:

Jackson, Miss.—The final numbers are in: the Jackson online tax-forfeited property auction garnered 1,503 bids on 343 parcels. The Southport Mall Shopping Center, an abandoned commercial property at Highway 80 and Ellis Avenue, received the highest bid at $185,000.

The winning bids in the Jackson auction totaled more than $600,000, which should be distributed to the schools, the city, and the county.

Secretary of State Delbert Hosemann launched online auctions in July 2016 to streamline the purchase of properties forfeited to the State for non-payment of ad valorem taxes. More than 1,300 of the bids in the Jackson auction were online.

An online tax-forfeited property auction in Waveland garnered 458 bids on 99 parcels. More than 380 of these bids were online. The highest bid received was $12,500. In all, the winning bids for the Waveland auction totaled more than $120,000.

Successful bidders in both auctions will be notified by e-mail by the Secretary of State’s Office, and payment of the bid amount must be paid within 15 days of notification.

To view other tax-forfeited properties available for purchase, visit the Secretary of State’s tax-forfeited land search here.

September 30, 2016

Corrections and Mental Health Departments Team Up To Reduce Recidivism

By adreher

Mississippi received a $647,461 federal grant aimed at reducing recidivism by addressing untreated co-occurring substance use and mental health disorders in offenders under community supervision.

The Departments of Corrections and Mental Health will partner up to administer the program. The Second Chance Act Reentry Program for Adults with Co-Occurring Substance Use and Mental Disorders will start on Oct. 1 and run for three years.

“Our state is in dire need of programs that can offer ex-offenders a full continuum of integrated care that will improve their functioning and outcomes when they return to their communities,” MDOC Commissioner Marshall Fisher said in a press release. “Therefore, when the Department of Mental Health approached me about supporting its efforts to get this grant, I didn’t hesitate.”

There are 3,194 inmates receiving ongoing mental health treatment and about 15,000 have self-reported abusing alcohol and drugs, a press release from both departments said.

“We believe individuals with co-occurring mental illness and substance use disorders represent a group of people who have been under-identified and may have had difficulties accessing the services they need,” DMH Executive Director Diana Mikula said in a press release. “The Mississippi Second Chance Act Reentry Program will work to identify these needs and get people the services that can help them begin their recovery process.”

The grant allows the two departments to improve identification of inmates with co-occurring substance use and mental health disorders, provide training to staff, integrate individualized treatment plans and track participant outcomes.

The departments will use mental health assessments to determine individuals’ needs and collaborate to develop re-entry plans, including pre- and post-release treatment. Those treatment services will include cognitive-behavioral therapy, crisis intervention, and recovery support services such as housing, vocational, and educational services.

The program will start focusing on non-violent offenders returning to Hinds County. Current plans are to serve 90 individuals during the three-year pilot program in order to develop a program model that can be replicated statewide with the receipt of additional federal grant funding, the press release says. The program will require people under community supervision to participate in a minimum number of intensive outpatient therapeutic hours, based on their individual recidivism risk level.

“Through our collaboration with the Department of Corrections, we know there are a number of eligible individuals right here in Hinds County,” Mikula said in the press release. “We will be collaborating and using existing resources in the state mental health system to get these Mississippians the treatment and support services they need. I know that with all of us working together, we can create a better tomorrow for the people of our state.”

September 30, 2016

Christopher Freeze Named Special Agent in Charge of Jackson Division

By Tim Summers Jr.

Verbatim Statement:

FBI Director James B. Comey has named Christopher Freeze as the Special Agent in Charge of the Jackson Division. Mr. Freeze most recently served as a Section Chief of the Foreign Terrorist Tracking Task Force in the Counterterrorism Division at FBI Headquarters.

Current Jackson Division Special Agent in Charge Donald Alway has been named Deputy Assistant Director of Training at the FBI Academy in Quantico, Va. Mr. Alway has been Special Agent in Charge in Jackson for more than two years.

Mr. Freeze entered on duty with the FBI in 1996. He was first assigned to the Richmond Division, where he worked public corruption, computer fraud, and financial institution fraud cases.

Throughout his career, Mr. Freeze has held leadership positions in the Houston Division and the Counterterrorism Division, and has worked extensively with the United States Intelligence Community. Mr. Freeze is a certified firearms instructor, and he has served as a member of the SWAT and Evidence Response Teams.

Mr. Freeze will assume this new role at the end of November.

September 29, 2016

DOJ: Jackson Police Officer Indicted on Bribery Charges

By adreher

Jackson Police Officer Melvin Williams was arrested today after a federal grand jury returned a one-count indictment against him for soliciting, demanding and accepting a bribe, U.S. Attorney Gregory K. Davis and FBI Special Agent in Charge Donald Alway said in a press release today.

The indictment alleges that from February 2016, to September 2016, Williams solicited, demanded and accepted things of value totaling $5,000 dollars from an unnamed individual intending to be influenced and rewarded. Williams is scheduled for arraignment at 2:30 p.m. today before U.S. Magistrate Judge Keith Ball.

The FBI is investigating the case and the and prosecuted by Assistant U.S. Attorney Patrick Lemon is prosecuting the case. If convicted, Williams faces a maximum penalty of 10 years in prison and a $250,000 fine.

An indictment is merely a charge and should not be considered as evidence of guilt. The defendant is presumed innocent until proven guilty in a court of law.

September 28, 2016

Council to Consider Cutting Constituent Services from Mayor's Office

By Tim Summers Jr.

The Jackson City Council is set to consider "removing Constituent Services and associated funding from the Mayor's Office," during a special meeting for Thursday, Sept. 29.

The proposal comes after a week of questions about how the council might maneuver to replenish funds to the Greater Jackson Arts Council, GJAC, after the administration cut about $125,000 from the organization’s allocation, almost a third of their total budget. The GJAC cuts and the closure of Grove Park Golf Course came as a response to the council’s decision on Sept. 13 to take $100,000 from the Mayor’s Office among other amendments to the proposed 2017 budget.

The meeting is set for 9:00 a.m. tomorrow in Council Chambers in City Hall.

September 20, 2016

Mississippi Craft Brewers and Mississippi Beer Distributors Agree on On-Premises Sales Bill

By Todd Stauffer

Jackson, Mississippi – On June 22, 2016, the Mississippi Brewers Guild and the Mississippi Beer Distributors Association held a joint meeting to discuss the state of the craft beer industry in Mississippi and agree on an on-premises sales bill for the 2017 Mississippi Legislative Session.

September 19, 2016

MDOC Plans to Use Walnut Grove Site for Alternative or Re-Entry Programs

By adreher

The Mississippi Department of Corrections plans to use the former Walnut Grove Correctional Facility site for other purposes, like alternative or re-entry programs, a press release from the department says.

Commissioner Marshall Fisher has mentioned the mental health of inmates as a pressing concern in his department at government working group meetings this month and MDOC has formed a partnership with the Mississippi Department of Mental Health.

“We do not intend for the Walnut Grove site to go unused,” Fisher said in the press release. “Just as we have formed a partnership with the Mississippi Department of Mental Health to assist us in supervising mentally ill inmates both inside and outside prison, we are strongly pursuing other ways to help inmates re-enter their communities in a meaningful way and remain out of prison.”

MDOC is refocusing its resources on rehabilitation, a press release from the department says. There are 3,194 inmates reported to have mental health diagnoses and about 15,000 reporting substance abuse, including drug and alcohol use.

The former prison could be used as a technical violation center, which was created under the comprehensive criminal justice reform legislation in 2014 as an alternative to incarceration. MDOC currently operates three such centers in Rankin, Leflore, and Simpson counties.

Walnut Grove closed late last week when MDOC moved the last prisoners to the state-run facilities. MDOC announced the closure on June 10, before the U.S. Bureau of Prisons announced that it would be phasing out its use of private prisons.

“MDOC’s decision to close Walnut Grove is in no way connected to the U.S. Department of Justice’s decision nor is the closure the result of any advocacy group’s ‘victory’,” Fisher said in the press release. “When the prison closed, significant improvements had been made under Management & Training Corporation, and juvenile offenders were no longer being housed there. We believe enough significant improvements had been made that the consent decree providing oversight was no longer needed.”

September 16, 2016

MS Dept. of Mental Health Releases State Suicide Prevention Plan

By adreher

The Mississippi Department of Mental Health released its first state plan for suicide prevention today; a workgroup composed of state agency workers and other advocates formed in April to help finalize the two-year prevention plan. In Mississippi, suicide is the third leading cause of death among young people ages 10-24 years old.

The plan's release coincides with Suicide Prevention Awareness Month, which is in September.

“Whether we realize it or not, many of our friends and neighbors have been affected by suicide or mental illness,” DMH Executive Director Diana Mikula said in a press release. “Suicide affects people across all ages, races, and backgrounds, but through collaboration, sharing resources, and working towards common goals, we can prevent the tragedy of suicide.”

Suicide is the 12th leading cause of death overall in Mississippi, and the state's suicide rates also increase with age, the report shows. Men in Mississippi commit suicide at much higher rates than females their age.

The suicide prevention hotline is: 1-800-273-TALK (8255). The number will connect you to a counselor in a local crisis center.


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