JACKSON The only person to serve as both Hinds County sheriff and Jackson police chief, Malcolm McMillin, died this morning at St. Dominic hospital after a long illness. He was 72. Delores, his wife of 52 years, and children Chris, Andrew and Mollie survive him.
Locally, McMillin was known as a character and one well-liked across racial lines, and the Jackson Free Press staff gleefully one time did a "separated at birth" graphic of him and the Monopoly Man. When McMillin was sheriff, he and I had the occasional breakfast meetings in Broad Street Bakery, which took twice as long as they could have as person after person walked up to greet him, share a laugh or talk about one or another case. He also took my writing classes years ago, causing eyebrows to go up when he walked into the room and took his seat at the table. He never actually turned in any writing, but artist at heart, he enjoyed talking about writing, the student interaction and told many stories, peppered with his folksy colloquialisms. He always said he needed to write a memoir, and I always believed he knew where the bodies were buried.
In fact, I always wondered if he took my classes to size me up and keep an eye on me. I suppose I will never know.
Born in Natchez, McMillin made his home in Hinds County for more than four decades, much of that time spent in law enforcement. He received his bachelor's degrees in administration of justice and history from Mississippi College.
Fighting with the Supervisors
McMillin went to work with the Jackson Police Department in 1971 where he coordinated the department's first Crime Stoppers program. He was first elected in Hinds County in 1991 and sailed to re-election repeatedly, with a diverse voter base. That is, until he met the negative campaign season of 2011, when former JPD commander Tyrone Lewis defeated him in the Democratic primary for the sheriff's seat, a loss that McMillin took hard.
As sheriff, McMillin opened a new jail in Raymond in 2008, added a K-9 unit, a narcotics unit, a juvenile unit and a mounted patrol. He often worked with other agencies in joint operations, and he often fought with the Hinds County Board of Supervisors over resources for his department. He wasn't one to mince words—including with the men and women who allocated his department's budget—and he was willing to try to use the media to get his message out.
In 2006, for instance, the Jackson Free Press reported just one of the dust-ups between him and the board. Supervisor Doug Anderson, who is now deceased, said McMillin was wasting money on raises for his staff and was using public fears of crime to get more money.
"McMillin will go and give raises that were not planned for or allocated for," Anderson said then. "The sheriff has already given $21,000 in raises. Supervisors give him over one-third of the county budget. That's over $17 million. The sheriff will spend every dollar he gets and then ask for more. He knows that this gas issue is an issue that the public will support him on."
The sheriff and former police-union president responded that all raises were within his budget and that he reserved the right, as the elected sheriff, to take care of his people. "I give raises by merit because the people who deserve them ought to get them, and those raises didn't have anything to do with gas prices going up," McMillin said.
When McMillin ran for re-election in 2011, he was blunt in an interview about what he thought of the supervisors' priorities; he had been forced to do cuts and employee furloughs even as the board was pushing plans for a new regional jail.
"The board of supervisors needs to be better stewards of their money than they have been in the past," he told the Jackson Free Press.
He was also direct when asked if the metro needed a regional jail. "No," he said. "I don't think we have a need for it. We might need an expansion of the jail we have now or look for alternative ways to deal with our situation with nonviolent criminals. Other ways of dealing with jail overcrowding might be the answer rather than building enough jail space for everybody who needs to be there."
Righting Crime, Pushing Alternatives
McMillin, although he fashioned himself a tough crime-fighter, also worried a lot about many of the young people who got caught up at the system, an issue he would discuss at our breakfasts, including the problem of the public and elected officials' propensity to demand that offenders go to jail rather than being offered alternatives to help redirect their lives—and that would save his department money if they stopped re-offending and didn't need jail space.
Helping keep people out of jail is perhaps a lesser-known piece of McMillin's legacy. Pauline Rogers wrote me this morning praising McMillin on this front. "My husband, Frederick Rogers, an ex-offender of 25 years, is a free man because of Sheriff McMillin," she said. Her husband, she said, was locked up at age 14 for an armed robbery and served 15 years and 23 months in Parchman. "McMillin mentored him and help him change his life around. He is now doing the same thing thing for others getting out of prison."
She and her husband later co-founded a Jackson-based nonprofit organization, the Rech Foundation,to help former prison inmates get on with their lives after serving time in prison, and to serve "children whose parents are incarcerated, offering summer camps, angel tree, educational support, and other activities to help narrow the void left by absent parents, "its website states. McMillin, along with Victor Smith, and the late Frank C. Horton and Stuart Irby Sr., were the first to donate to the foundation, she said.
"Sheriff McMillin was EXCEPTIONAL!," Rogers wrote today.
Jolivette Anderson-Douoning, who now lives in Indiana but used to be a force in the black arts movement in Jackson, agrees. She wrote me today about the Second Chance Choir she helped organize as an intern for New Stage Theater. "Sheriff McMillin worked with me to make sure the choir of men who were still in jail could perform as an opening act," she said. "It was strange having guards and guns at the show, but it was for a greater good for those men and for the city overall. Rehabilitation. Everybody wins."
Linda Mann wrote me this about McMillin today: "What a fine, sweet man. I'll never forget the day he invited the women who worked for the USA IBC out to the county prison farm for lunch grown and cooked by the inmates. The inmates' choir he founded also serenaded us. He was so proud of them, as he should have been. Everything was perfect, and we were so impressed at what the men had accomplished. Malcolm had a great big heart and a lot of talent."
Artist Wyatt Waters has a similar story. "(The sheriff) called me and asked me if I would take a detention resident into a Millsaps class I was teaching at the time. (The student) turned his life around and is now a positive art force in our area and a fine person," Waters told me today, adding that he had first met then-beat-cop McMillin in the 1980s when the artist was painting outside on Farish Street. "Malcolm had that kind of influence. He was always generous and supportive."
McMillin also believed in inmates giving back to the community. "Hinds County trustees helped build a number of Habitat houses with the Junior League of Jackson, thanks to Sheriff McMillin," Kathleen Conner Strickland wrote me.
Cleaning Up Melton's Messes
The sheriff found himself in a particularly thorny situation when Frank Melton became mayor in 2006. Melton was a self-ordained crime-fighter who liked to illegally carry weapons and patrol neighborhoods like the Washington Addition, the Wood Street area and Subdivision 2 at night with his bodyguards in the Jackson Police Department's Mobile Command Center (at least until he was mired in his own state and federal criminal trials—with crime up, rather than down.) To say the least, the man who said what people wanted to hear even if it didn't make sense, especially about crime, frustrated straight-shooters like Malcolm McMillin. It didn't help that Melton played favorites with young criminals he wanted to help and targeted those he didn't.
In 2006, Sheriff McMillin had Melton arrested after then-District Attorney Faye Peterson brought the case to a Hinds County grand jury, which indicted the mayor and his two bodyguards for the destruction of the duplex at 1305 Ridgeway St., a story the Jackson Free Press broke.
But by late 2007, McMillin was called to solve the mess that the mayor had created in the local law-enforcement community, after Melton finally fired his hand-picked and beleaguered police chief and friend, Shirlene Anderson, who had seemed to rubberstamp whatever he wanted to do. Under pressure, Melton asked McMillin to also serve as the city's police chief, in addition to his role as sheriff. It was an unprecedented role, and one McMillin said he wasn't particularly happy about, but he took on the second job and ran both departments from November 2007 until April 2009. At the time, Tyrone Lewis served as a JPD commander under McMillin.
When McMillin decided to step down as police chief in April 2007, he told the Jackson Free Press that he could not serve as Melton's police chief because he would oppose the mayor in his re-election campaign. "I thought it would say a lot about me and my integrity and honesty in taking that salary without supporting the mayor," McMillin said then.
At the time of his re-election primary, Melton was facing both federal and state trials over the destruction of the Ridgeway Street duplex.
Melton appointed Tyrone Lewis as police chief to fill McMillin's spot, who served in that role until Melton died just as the polls closed, cementing his loss in his re-election bid. In 2011, Lewis then defeated McMillin for the sheriff's seat after a raucous campaign.
Navigating a 'Black Helicopter' Attack
It didn't help McMillin that a local blogger pushed a conspiracy around McMillin's role in investigating the DUI car crash of Stuart and Karen Irby, who had killed a couple in another vehicle. McMillin, who was chief and sheriff at the time of the accident, received negative publicity around the unproved theory that he had gone easy on the Irbys after the accident because he had known Stuart Irby for a long time—innuendo he considered a witch hunt.
McMillin reached out to the Jackson Free Press then to push back on the accusations in an interview that caused the blogger to call this reporter a "journalistic slut" for giving McMillin the chance to give his side.
"I made it a point not to be involved, not to be briefed," McMillin said then in an interview in his downtown office. McMillin did not deny having a "close personal relationship" with Stuart Irby whom he called "a friend," but emphasized that he had held elected office long enough to know that he should not go near the investigation. "I wanted to make sure there was not any implication of impropriety on my part in the handling of this case."
The sheriff accused the blogger, who does not blog under his real name, of being someone "who sees black helicopters, conspiracy theories or is just ignorant."
McMillin admitted, though, that JPD investigators had made mistakes at the crime scene.
After McMillin left the sheriff's office, Gov. Phil Bryant appointed him to the state parole board in 2012 where he stayed on for about a year.
“I appreciate Malcolm’s service to the people of Mississippi. His dedication to public safety and law enforcement are deeply respected,” Bryant said then. “I wish him and Delores the very best.”
McMillin largely dropped out of political view at that point. However, he did tell the Jackson Free Press last year that he was strongly backing challenger Victor Mason, who had worked with both the JPD and the Hinds County Sheriff's Department, against Lewis in his first re-election bid. Mason defeated Lewis and is now sheriff.
A Man Who Enjoyed Life
Although he encountered controversies along the way, Malcolm McMillin participated fully in the local community and, particularly, loved the arts. He especially enjoying acting in New Stage productions. He also liked to laugh and was known as a good sport.
"I am so sorry to hear about his passing," the artist H.C. Porter told me today on Facebook. "He was so supportive of the Millsaps Arts District in the early years. He often had lunch at our local art cafe and delighted us with his generous smile and genuine interest in our world! Peace to his family."
Today, photographer David Rae Morris told me two stories about McMillin that capture both his supportive and mischievous spirit.
During the trial of Byron de la Beckwith in 1994 for murdering Jackson civil-rights leader Medgar Evers at his home here in 1963, Morris wanted to photograph Beckwith and his wife, Thelma, when they arrived in the underground garage at the courthouse. So he bounced into McMillin's office, he said, proclaiming, "Hey sheriff, I want to get in the pool," referring to the media covering the trial. Morris said he was in the next group shooting the trial.
The photographer also fondly remembers his father Willie Morris' 60th-birthday party at Hal and Mal's in downtown Jackson where McMillin crashed the party and "arrested" the birthday boy, who was known himself as a practical jokester. "McMillin had him handcuffed and read a list of charges for which he was put on trial and convicted," David Rae Morris wrote in an email.
Mary Ann Hood, the wife of the late newspaper columnist Orley Hood, told me today that McMillin was the doorman/bouncer at the bar George Street Grocery back in the day. "My husband, Orley, wrote several columns about Mac and the things he did while sheriff, at New Stage, etc.," she wrote. For one, he took Mattie—"or Mama as we called her," Hood told me—with him when be became sheriff. He loved her cooking!"
"Mac did so much good for so many people, he will certainly be missed. There will never be another like him! He was a real Renaissance man."
Local attorney Sam Begley said McMillin was a part of his life since 1981. He knew him first as a JPD patrolman and then as the president of the police union, "where to say he fought for his members is an understatement. "Like every cop with a family he had to work part-time," Begley told me today. "I remember him handling the door upstairs at George Street on Thursday and Friday nights, back when George Street was hot with bands in the 1980s.
Begley, who is also a political watcher and strategist, said McMillin, a long-time Democrat, should have run as an independent in 2011 on the November ballot instead of against Lewis in the Democratic primary. "He would have smoked Tyrone Lewis in November, and we would have had him for four more years," he predicted.
Mississippi Attorney General Jim Hood tweeted about McMillin's death this morning: "We mourn the loss of a giant in the law enforcement community in Malcolm McMillin. Malcolm was devoted to making everyone safer. RIP."
Follow Editor-in-chief Donna Ladd on Twitter at @donnerkay. Feel free to post your own memories of McMillin in the comments below the story.