The State Of JPD | Jackson Free Press | Jackson, MS

The State Of JPD

Photos by Adam Lynch, Brian Johnson, Ronni Mott, and Kate Medley

Precinct 2 Patrolman Michael Braxton was on an evening shift in July when he got a vague call from dispatch telling him to head to Deer Park and Dalton Streets "to transport subjects from this location to an unknown location.

Dispatch told Braxton that "M2" needed a transport unit, but would not release further details over the radio, instead directing Braxton to call a phone number for further information.

"M2ԗMayor Frank Melton's bodyguard Marcus Wright—answered the phone and told Braxton that the mayor wanted to transport "several juveniles" from Deer Park to Melton's home in North Jackson.

Braxton called in to alert his supervisor, who advised him to follow through with the call, but to fill out an information report when he finished.

The patrolman arrived at Dalton and Deer Park at 6:55 p.m., but things went downhill almost as soon as the officer got out of his vehicle, according to the report, which an unnamed source brought to the Jackson Free Press last month.

The mayor was there, and Braxton—the Jackson Police Department's "officer of the month" in July—would soon learn that he was called there to transport young people to the mayor's home to go swimming and have a barbecue.

"Did you see that sh*t? That motherf*cker rolled his eyes at me."

Those words came from Melton, Braxton stated in his report.

"Is he talking to me?" demanded Braxton of Melton's bodyguard Michael Recio.

"Michael, come on. F*ck him. … We got enough cars. F*ck that motherf*cker. That motherf*cker rolled his eyes at me," Melton told Recio.

"Is the mayor talking to me?" Braxton again demanded of Recio.

Things were getting tense.

"Have you met the mayor? Would you like to meet him?" Recio asked Braxton, laughing as if dismissing the antics of some nutty uncle at a family cookout.

"No, thank you," Braxton growled.

"F*ck that motherf*cker," the mayor of Jackson concluded.

Braxton's report describes the alleged volley of filth as "within listening range of news cameras, residents of the neighborhood, as well as several juveniles and small children in the vicinity."

"I felt that Mayor Melton's comments to me were abusive, unprofessional and totally out of order," Braxton states in his report.

Ward 7 Councilwoman Margaret Barrett-Simon responded to the leaked report by chiding the mayor for using valuable police time for cab service.

"These officers have too much to do to be doing escort service," Barrett-Simon said. Melton told The Clarion-Ledger the police rides would continue, claiming that "the liability is on me and not the city and the City Council."

Council President Leslie McLemore disagreed.

"I still think it's a liability issue," McLemore said. "I have not changed my mind on that. The city is liable if something happens (to the civilians) in the vehicle."

The leaked report represents a greater issue: the growing rift between the city's mayor and the people in blue hired to protect the city.

Smashing Morale
Melton ran on a campaign platform of reducing crime within months, and pandered to the city's police in speeches. Under the last administration, police had routinely grumbled about low pay, rotten hours and the city's molasses-slow promotional process, and Melton promised to address all three issues. He had also promised to boot desk officers out onto patrols, appealing perhaps to the natural rift between ranking officers and newbies.

Police officers say the department is in a grievous state two years after Melton's arrival, with shrinking ranks and lousy morale. Members of the Jackson Police Officers Association felt impassioned enough about the matter to directly appeal to the City Council for a change in the city's neglect of the department.

"It's not so much neglect of the department as it is an abuse," union President Juan Cloy told the Jackson Free Press last month at a union press conference. Cloy and union Vice President David Domino complained to the council during an October afternoon special meeting that the department lacks proper equipment and training, and must also bear the pretentious inexperience of a mayor who insists on acting like a policeman.

Cloy—himself an early Melton supporter—pulled no punches in describing the mayor's effect on the department. Last month, the local police union spoke out against Melton's promotion of his two bodyguards Michael Recio and Marcus Wright, to assistant chief and sergeant, respectively. Cloy told reporters that neither of the two had passed promotional tests, leaving them merely with patrol officer credentials.

Melton has not backed down from his decision to promote the two, even though the council has fought him on approving the more than $40,000 in raises required to fund the promotions. Melton attempted to curb criticism regarding the two bodyguards by announcing a new round of promotional tests before the end of the year, but undermined even that meager concession by admitting that the test results would not be the determining factor in promotions. The admission leaves ample room for the bodyguard promotions to stand, even if both flunk the tests.

Cloy added that the mayor's favoritism toward Recio and Wright is manifesting in other ways.

"Internal Affairs has yet to begin an investigation of Recio and Wright on conduct unbecoming a police officer regarding the house on Ridgeway. They haven't had any investigation at all for anything they have done. If you're going to go to trial over a particular incident, then that internal affairs investigation should have started within a month of the accusations. That's standard procedure," Cloy told the Jackson Free Press.

A Hinds County grand jury indicted Melton, Wright and Recio last year on multiple felony counts after the Jackson Free Press revealed that the men had smashed a duplex on Ridgeway Street on Aug. 26, 2006. Charges against them included burglary, malicious mischief, two counts of conspiracy and causing or directing a minor to commit a felony. After the judge allowed the defense to argue that prosecutors must prove "evil intent" by the men, the Hinds County jury acquitted Melton and the two bodyguards, though none of them denied committing the act.

Union members claim that more qualified officers deserve the promotions ahead of Recio and Wright. Union member Ernest Perry said the mayor's obstinacy is obliterating officer morale all over the department.

"He's sticking to his guns on those promotions, and it is affecting morale. It really is," Perry said.

'Favoritism and Cronyism'
Former JPD Chief Robert Johnson said he understood why the promotions injured morale.

"I know how much I looked forward to the opportunity for promotion. Having worked hard for it, to see somebody who doesn't appear to have the qualifications or the necessary experience being promoted to that kind of position is demoralizing. My oldest boy, who is a police officer in Michigan, read about this and called me, a little upset about it because he recognizes it for being so out of the norm," Johnson said in an interview.

He added that police officers, particularly African Americans, place high value on promotions based on experience.

"Police officers all over respect promotional procedure, which allows everybody to compete based on their training, qualifications and experience—particularly as it relates to African American officers, because for so long, as when I first started, that opportunity was not afforded. There have been a great deal of gains made since then, and this is kind of a throwback to the old days of patronage and favoritism and cronyism," Johnson said.

"It's not anything personal against Recio, but as a young officer, we all need to be afforded the opportunity to excel in this department," Perry said.

"Give everybody an equal opportunity to apply and exceed in their profession. That's all we ask. If you don't get that opportunity, it makes you think, 'why am I even here? I'm not going anywhere, so why should I risk my life more than I have to? That's the damage that low morale does."

Slow reaction time and lazy follow-up may be at fault in at least two recent murders.

In September, George Bell III, whose family owns the George Bell Rug Cleaning Company on Commerce Street in downtown Jackson, allegedly beat his girlfriend Heather Spencer to death with a flashlight and then kept her body in his mother's house all night before surrendering the next day. Two months earlier, however, he had allegedly attempted similar violence, creeping into her house and beating her head with a hammer. She needed 57 staples to close the wounds—but he was not arrested, and JPD released documents after her murder blaming the victim for asking that the charges be dropped.

Police may have slacked off during follow-up to the original attack. The first reports, obtained from a source by the Jackson Free Press, charged Bell with the felony of aggravated assault (attempted murder). Days later, however, police dropped the charge to simple assault, a misdemeanor, but never arrested him. The reports, and interviews with Spencer's mother, indicate that the police left the hammer, which he allegedly used in the first attack, next to the bed. Her mother and her roommate had to call police to ask them to come pick up the evidence. Bell would not be charged for that attack until after police had him in custody for allegedly bludgeoning Spencer to death with a flashlight.

A little preventive maintenance also might have prevented the September murder of Doris Shavers at the alleged hand of her ex-boyfriend, Henry Phillips. JPD officers responded to two separate calls pertaining to Phillips that day. Phillips had allegedly threatened a mentally disabled minor with a gun. The responding officers failed to collect either of Phillips' two guns on the first visit. When his family called police a second time, the second pair of officers took only one of the guns before driving away.

Within minutes, an enraged Phillips allegedly shot Shavers in the head as she sat next to her 12-year-old daughter, Jessica.

Police returned after her murder, but they were still sloppy, leaving shell casings by the sofa that the JFP would photograph several days later.

Another of Doris' three daughters, Shalandria Shavers, and Shavers' brother James Hopkins, have served notice of a suit they plan to file against the city for gross negligence and breach of duty, among other charges.

Strangely, the family named Melton during the October press conference announcing the suit, because Melton jumped into the thick of the situation, making promises that the family said he later backed out on.

"Mayor Frank Melton came to the house and lied to us and made all types of promises. He told us that he would get to the bottom of everything, and there would be an investigation and officers would be dealt with. He told us there would be a police escort for the funeral, counseling for the kids and (that) their daughters would be cared for. All this was a lie," Hopkins told reporters.

"We have not heard from the City or Mayor since the television cameras left."

JPD will not discuss the role of police in either case, saying they are "personnel issues."

The Chief That Wasn't
If Melton's influence is chipping away at morale, his choice for police chief, former narcotics agent Shirlene Anderson, seems loathe to stop it. She has historically gone along with him on his nighttime "raids," seemingly there to enable him to do what he wanted. She has made no move to slow Melton's decision to install his bodyguards into higher positions within the department, and said nothing on the record about the mayor's call for a freeze in promotions, despite resounding outcry from within the department.

Anderson has voiced no public opposition to the mayor since he picked her for police chief days after his election. Melton had quickly dispensed with the arduous selection process used by previous mayors to appoint a chief. Former Mayor Harvey Johnson Jr., agonized over the process for almost a year before finally deciding to import former U.S. Marshal Robert Moore from Springfield, Ill., to run the department.

Critics believe Melton needed somebody who would allow him to micromanage the department. He had bonded with Anderson during his brief tenure as head of the Mississippi Bureau of Narcotics, and he trolled her and other personalities, such as former MBN agent Roy Sandifer, for use in the city's police department—despite their involvement in the release of an MBN memo disparaging other agents, which later was shown to be false.

Melton installed Anderson as chief and Sandifer as assistant chief. Sandifer left the department after only a few months for health reasons, but Anderson remains, supplicating herself to Melton's whims.

After donning a white cowboy hat at her first City Council meeting, Anderson rearranged the department's command staff, which had overseen an annual drop in major crime under assistant chiefs Edna Drake and Daryl Smith. Drake retired from the department at the onset of the Melton administration, and Smith left soon after, following former Chief Moore out the door within months.

Anderson's hold on her title as chief might be precarious, no matter how accommodating she is to the mayor. WAPT reported Nov. 2 that Jackson police Cmdr. Lee Vance would replace Anderson, and that Cmdr. Tyrone Lewis would be promoted to deputy chief. WAPT said Melton had scheduled a 7 p.m. news conference that night to make the announcement, but Melton canceled the conference hours ahead of time, and later called the station, denying Anderson's replacement.

Neither Melton nor Anderson would confirm that her position is on the chopping block, though WAPT said it had nailed down two confidential sources affirming the shake-up. The situation speaks volumes about the instability of the department, according to city residents.

"You know what I think? I think Vance was more headstrong than the mayor liked," said Robert Kenny, who owns an auto refurbishing shop in central Jackson. "I'm willing to bet Vance demanded his own command staff and wanted Recio out of the assistant chief's seat, so Frank backed out. That would be like him."

Vance would not comment on the matter.

Insulting Officers
Melton behaves very much like a chief in his determination to micromanage the department, particularly in terms of his treatment of officers.

The mayor told WLBT that JPD had no place for Braxton and his rolling eyes. "That behavior is very unacceptable to this administration, and he needs to go," he told WLBT's Howard Ballou.

Perry said any threat Melton might make against Braxton is empty. Braxton was officer of the month in July, and a Civil Service Commission investigation would find flaws in Melton's decision to remove him. Perry added, however, that the mayor's threat was a blow to younger officers with fewer accomplishments under their belts.

"Frank said because of that incident he's going to fire the guy, and that's probably just talk, but a young officer might hear that and be afraid to think or even work," Perry said. "It affects their ability to make decisions."

Former Chief Johnson called Melton's tirade "highly unusual."

"Having served in a chief's and a command officer's role, if I took umbrage at every perceived slight I'd have fired and cussed out hundreds if not thousands of people. That's going to happen. It's human nature. If it's obviously disrespectful, you deal with it, but rolling your eyes or not looking you directly in the face, those are irrelevant sort of gestures that don't even warrant a second glance, much less than a profanity-laced tirade. That's over the top for me," Johnson said. He commended Braxton on filing the report because "three months from now, if something happens, and it's related to that incident, he's got documents backing him up."

Cloy's PowerPoint presentation about the department to the council was symbolic of the department's chief issue with the mayor. Melton, who had participated in other council meetings that day, pointedly abandoned the chambers minutes before Cloy began his presentation.

He also insulted the officers. "I know those guys, and they're like (city employees) all over the country. If you buy them all a Mercedes, they'll complain about the color," Melton told council members at a November work session.

Cloy told the council that morale had more to do with money than just the mayor, however.

"This department is missing many of the components necessary for us to do our job," Cloy told council members, referencing the city's loss of service for its automated fingerprint identification system, referred to as AFIS. The city police department maintained a state AFIS terminal inside its old headquarters in the Standard Life Building, in downtown Jackson. Cloy said the department had lost access since its move to the new headquarters.

Perry said the city had regained access to its AFIS service less than a week after Cloy's council presentation, though city public relations personnel could not confirm Perry's claim.

Listen Up, Criminals
The police department suffers shortages on other fronts. The city's parts budget regularly bottoms out months before the end of the fiscal year, resulting in some vehicles, including police cruisers, sitting unused until the council approves the new budget.

A dire shortfall is also apparent in the department's declining head count. Director of Administration Rick Hill told council members during the September budget hearings that the department currently has about 400 officers, about 150 officers short of the number required to sufficiently staff the JPD.

"Right now, the (police) department has no choice but to be reactive to crime," Cloy told the council. "It can't be pro-active because it doesn't have the manpower."

Cloy characterized the department as running on a skeleton crew, with officers having to put in an average of 10 hours of overtime each pay period to cover the shortfalls. Hill told the council that the city racked up almost $2.5 million in overtime costs from the fire and police departments in the 2007 fiscal year.

The Clarion-Ledger reported last year that Recio and Wright made a combined $42,100 in overtime over the past fiscal year.

Councilman Marshand Crisler said that same money would be better spent educating new recruits.

"We budgeted for about $1 million in overtime, but we spent about $2 million, doubling what we'd assessed and appropriated. Knowing that, I don't think those classes are as expensive as overtime. That's what I believe until I get some data saying otherwise," Crisler said. "The problem is, the Jackson Police Academy is estimating about nine graduates this time around."

Melton attributed a drop in the number of classes to the faltering city budget, but Johnson said the classes would be possible if the administration stuck to its guns on the proper issues.

"I don't think there was any more money then as there is now," Johnson said. "The police budget has always been fairly tight. The solution is prioritizing, by having a plan and sticking to that plan. You just can't do things on a haphazard basis. If you've budgeted for and have planned two classes a year, then those classes should go forward irrespective of what kind of budget it is. You can't budget one thing and spend it on something else. There has to be a plan in place, and there has to be a commitment to it, but apparently there isn't one, at least, not that I'm aware of. There doesn't appear to be any direction, no plan, no sort of strategic initiative, whether it's bringing on more officers, or attacking crime, or the operations of the force."

Former Chief Moore said the money for academy classes had always been there under his watch.

"We had good grant folks who kept that grant money rolling in, and the Justice Department was always ready to extend that grant as long as we stayed above the 450 officer mark. I'd extended (the grant) even before I took over as chief down there. They'd called me and asked me if I was going to extend it and I said, 'of course.' I don't know what happened to it, but that grant money was intact when I left," Moore said.

This administration's ability to graduate more cops or recruit from outside is about to close the spigot on other grant money. The city needs 35 more officers by the end of December, or it will lose $1.3 million in federal money for police salaries. And now that Melton has rescinded the water and sewer fee increases he called for in his 2008 fiscal budget, the city is already facing more than $3 million in budget shortfalls.

Melton promoted former city spokesman Cmdr. Tyrone Lewis to deputy police chief in charge of training and recruitment in October. Lewis, recognizing the futility of filling the force through graduating classes by December, said he is putting an emphasis upon courting officers from other city and county law departments, and recruiting former officers who left in good standing.

"My focus isn't on having another class, but on recruiting and getting more officers here. We're working on putting together an incentive package to attract officers from other districts, but that's going to have to include some council meetings, and some budget and financial personnel as well," Lewis said, adding that the council's recent decision to expand the city's residency requirement to a 40-mile radius is a big help.

Lewis said the city actually needs about 26 more officers by December, after accounting for the nine new graduates, and said he believed the figure could be reached within two months.

Crisler wished Lewis his best, but said he had small hope in the possibility.

"I think the chances of keeping that grant money is fading fast," Crisler said bleakly. "At nine graduates a year, the city could potentially reach its optimum needs in about half a century, so long as nobody retires or transfers."

But Cloy said police officers are retiring and transferring like crazy, and nobody is breaking down the city's doors to get in these days.

"We are a laughing stock among other police departments all over this state," Cloy said. "The only people still here are those who truly work because they love the job, because there are very few reasons for them to stay. Our work force isn't just leaving. It's gone."

Officers have fewer weapons in their arsenal for addressing grievances with the city. Police do not have the option to strike during union negotiations, but rumors are circulating among members that police may be gearing up to refuse overtime altogether if the city makes no improvements to the situation.

Crisler said he did not believe there was a law restricting police from refusing overtime, but warned the city would suffer mightily if officers refused to work extra hours.

"It's not even a question," Crisler said. "With our staff shortages, this city would fall to pieces if police decided to refuse overtime. It would be a catastrophe."

Former Chief Johnson said the city could order officers to adopt overtime, even in the absence of an emergency order, but hoped the union would not have to go that far.

"A 'blue flu' (planned mass sick leave) or a refusal for overtime should be a last resort that I would want to see happen, but I expect public opinion will be brought to bear on the situation before that becomes necessary," he said.

Previous Comments

ID
82140
Comment

Great article, Adam Lynch, as always. I think that it is a given that the City will lose the 1.3 million. I get creamed from time to time when I talk about the Johnson Administration and the positive things that were happening for Jackson. Too bad that melton was able to use sound bites, fish frys, booze, and superman promises to destroy the hopes and dreams that Mayor Johnson had for this City: Many of which have been actualized. This is truly a sad 2 year period in our City's history.

Author
justjess
Date
2007-11-15T10:34:48-06:00
ID
82141
Comment

i back johnson to justess, u aint alone.

Author
NewJackson
Date
2007-11-15T11:44:26-06:00

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