CPD Officers Caught in Crosshairs
Two Columbus Police Officers may face suspensions for allegedly breaking department policy after responding to a call earlier this month involving the arrest of a relative of Columbus Mayor Robert Smith. Controversy erupted after allies of the mayor believed an officer was heard on tape threatening the mayor during a discussion behind the Lowndes County jail shortly after the incident.
On Thursday, Oct. 4, just after 10:30 p.m., CPD Officer Kevin Moore stopped a car in front of King Grocery at 1704 Martin Luther King Jr. Drive. The stop was due to the fact that the driver of the car disregarded the traffic light at the intersection of MLK Jr. Drive and 14th Ave. N.
After a record check, the driver of the car, Rebecca Smith, 27, of Columbus, was arrested for Driving with a Suspended License, Failure to Have Proof of Liability Insurance and Disobeying a Traffic Control Device. Smith was allowed to contact someone to come pick up her vehicle. She was then taken into custody and was transported to Lowndes County Adult Detention Center (LCADC). Smith is the daughter of Columbus Mayor Robert Smith.
(We did not run the arrest story of Rebecca Smith in The Packet last week, as it was a misdemeanor charge and she has no known criminal history. We responded to the scene knowing only that the vehicle she was driving was registered to Columbus Mayor Robert Smith. It wasn’t until another situation developed from the incident and the notion of potential officer suspensions arose that the arrest became newsworthy-CK)
While Smith was transported to the jail, Packet reporter John Douglas stood in the back parking lot of the Sheriff’s Office in an attempt to get a photo of her being walked into the facility.
While waiting at the back fence with a camera in hand, Douglas roused the attention of the guards working inside the jail. CPD and LCSO Officers were alerted and asked to respond to the jail for ‘A white male taking pictures behind the jail.’ [I heard the call on my scanner and knew the best course of action was to stay there and wait for the cavalry to swoop in. – JD]
Three correctional officers from inside the jail went outside to detain the ‘suspicious person’. CPD Officer Yolanda Young was the first to arrive, followed closely by Officer Stephen Kemp. Lowndes County Lt. Tony Perkins was moments behind them.
While the responding officers were familiar with Douglas, the LCADC jailers were not. Douglas explained that the Packet’s reporters often came to the jail to get a ‘walk in’ shot of prisoners if they could not get a good photo at the scene of the arrest. [These photos have often run with our stories, even gracing the cover of the Packet on certain occasions. – JD]
Correctional Officer Pam Glover informed Douglas that their shift had never witnessed this, and that the practice was against the law. Officer Kemp also informed the reporter that photos could only be taken from the edge of the street outside the jail (roughly 40 yards from the fence).
Douglas told the officers that this had never been mentioned to any of the Packet staff, but the reporters would cease their practice of the ‘walk in’ shot if it was illegal.
Moore exited the jail and joined the gathering outside the fence to see what the commotion was about.
Lowndes County Sheriff Mike Arledge agreed with several sources within the Sheriff’s Office this week, telling Columbus Packet Editor Colin Krieger that it was not illegal for reporters to take photos on the property, so long as they stay outside the fence and away from the main gate. Reporters must stay off the property if told to do so by a Deputy concerning a specific incident for safety reasons.
The following Wednesday (Oct. 10th), rumor spread around the Columbus political scene that a recording of the incident at the jail contained a quote from one of the officers saying: “You’ve got to cut the Mayor’s throat.” If true, friends of Columbus Mayor Robert Smith argued that it would show that some Police officers not only treat Mayor Smith unfavorably, but that some may be trying to intentionally go after the Mayor and his family.
A copy of the recording was obtained by The Packet late Friday afternoon from sources close to city hall (and outside of the CPD), and it was copied again and sent to an online transcription service to authenticate alleged statement and the other conversation leading up to it. Another copy of the tape was also transcribed by several members of The Packet staff (Neither the Packet staff or the transcription service was told of the phrase “throat cutting,” in an effort to remain as fair as possible-CK).
The transcription, from online service FoxTranscribe, was emailed to The Packet Tuesday, and it indicated that the phrase “cut the Mayor’s throat” was not used. Below is the best transcription of the tape The Packet staff can provide, it contains both the majority of the translation provided by FoxTranscribe, as well as additional portions of the same tape later obtained after the original transcription was ordered. The entire recording will be available on The Columbus Packet website Thursday evening.
The entire tape is 10 minutes, 30 seconds in length, the following portion is a copy of most of the recording. It contains a conversation between Lowndes County Jailer Pam Glover, Officer Stephen Kemp, Kevin Moore and Yolanda Young. The recording is believed to come from the recorder of Officer Young, as Moore and Kemp reportedly did not have theirs on at the time.
(AUDIO LINK OPENS IN NEW TAB)
Young: Hey, what’s going on? (Laughter)
Douglas: You should have known it was me.
Glover: I’ve never had anybody on my shift do this.
Glover: Take pictures.
Douglas: If we miss them at the scene, if we don’t get a face shot, we always run over here.
Young: Yeah, they come up to the… and catch ‘em when you walking them in.
Douglas: I usually stay against this wall over here, but I was shooting between the cars here. I didn’t know if she was inside yet or not.
Glover: (on radio) Go ahead and call the Lieutenant. Our Lieutenant. Let him know.
Young: So, y’all couldn’t get over to the thing…uh, Kevin Moore?
Douglas: Yeah. I got over there, but I didn’t get a shot of the face.
Glover: (on radio) Step out here.
(indistinct radio chatter)
Douglas: Like I said, this is how we get a lot of our bigger crimes. Like in the county, the tint is so dark on their cars, if they’re already in the car when we get there, we can’t get them. So we come over here and try to get them on the walk in.
Glover: Listen, I know you’re doing your job. We’re doing ours.
Douglas: Oh yeah. I don’t want to step on anybody’s toes. The last thing I need is law enforcement unhappy with me. It makes my job a lot harder.
Glover: (Laughter) It works both ways, hon. But we didn’t know what you were doing.
Douglas: Better safe than sorry.
Radio dispatcher: He’s supposed to be around back of the jail.
Kemp: (over radio) I’m on scene.
Kemp: Hey man! Don’t you know your First Amendment Rights were about to be violated?
(Laughter from all)
Douglas: I believe it! (Laughter)
Kemp: What are you out here doing man?
Douglas: Trying to get shots of the Mayor’s daughter as she was walked in back there.
Kemp: You’d get a better shot over there.
Glover: He already got it.
Douglas: Nah, I missed the shot. I MISSED my shot. I got her kinda. She hid her face from me. My camera did something funny. It didn’t go off at the right moment.
Kemp: That’s Kevin got that one? Glad it’s not me.
Young: Not me. That’s what I said too. (Laughter) We already got ’em mean. (Laughter)
Glover: What? Oh no!
Moore: What’d you do?
(Laughter from all)
Glover: He’s just doing his job.
Perkins: Doing his job?
Glover: Yeah, but I tell him, we just doing our job too.
Perkins: Not around the jail, they’re not. (Laughter)
John Douglas: This is, like I told them, this is the first time anybody said anything to us, coming down here and getting the shot at the back door. We’ve shot through this fence, I can’t tell you how many times.
Kemp: Yeah, First Amendment Right stops at the edge of the road out there.
Douglas: I did not know that.
Kemp: Especially being a government building.
Douglas: Okay. Now I know. Now I can tell everybody.
Kemp: It’s just not advisable. If we didn’t know you, we’d probably already have you on the ground, roughing you up.
Douglas: Hey, as long as somebody takes the camera and gets some pictures? That’s cool. (Laughter)
Glover: He don’t care. (Laughter) What’s your name again, honey?
Glover: Yolanda. Okay. I got to do a report on it.
Kemp: Glad he took her to jail and not me.
Moore: I don’t give a damn.
Kemp: All right.
Moore: I’m not gonna cut one break. (indistinct) I don’t give a damn.
Kemp: Man, you got to cut the mayor’s folks, always.
Moore: I don’t give a s***.
Kemp: Unless you the Highway Patrol, you can’t do nothing.
German Smith was arrested on gun charges May 26, 2012 in downtown Columbus by a Mississippi Highway Patrol Trooper. The felon currently faces federal charges following the arrest. According to sources, though the arrest took place inside the city limits of Columbus, the trooper called a Lowndes County Deputy to transport Smith to the LCADC, due to the fact that he was aware of German’s relation to the Mayor.
(Laughter from all)
Moore: Man, I don’t care.
Kemp: All right. When you got them two babies starving to death because you ain’t got no job.
Kemp: I hope you called the supervisor.
Rule #12 of Columbus Police Guidelines for the Uniform Patrol Division, states the following:
“On calls involving a law enforcement officer active or retired, any calls concerning a city employee or elected official or his or her family member a supervisor will respond to the scene and notify me of the situation promptly.”
-The “me” is CPD Captain Fred Shelton, who reportedly was contacted as per protocol.
Moore: I did!
Moore: I did. (indistinct)
Kemp: You and Rick, you and Rick Higgins or Jones?
Moore: All I gotta say is, “Chang chang! (immitating handcuffs)”
Kemp: You tell Ric Higgins or Rick Jones.
Moore: I told Ric Higgins and Rick Jones was standing right beside him and he told him.
Moore: All right. I ain’t scared of nobody. I don’t care who he is.
Moore: Hey, I’m in Pontotoc County, damn it.
Young: See y’all….(Laughter)
Radio: Respond to a (static) and speak with the desk clerk. It would be in reference to an intoxicated subject. I don’t know if he’s at the pool or in the pool, but he is refusing to get out. Speak to the front desk clerk.
The phrase “cut the mayor’s throat” appeared to be a mistranslation of the phrase “cut the mayor’s folks (a break)”.
According to several sources, Officers Stephen Kemp and Kevin Moore both face possible suspension for not having their recorders on when they responded to the incident behind the jail. Officers are, according to CPD policy, ordered to have their recorders on whenever they respond to a call. Other officers have faced between one and three days in similar incidents in the past. It is unclear if either officer will be punished for speculating on how Mayor Smith and his family should or should not be treated.
The Columbus Police Department traditionally only releases police recordings upon request, unless the incident is said to still be under investigation. It seems that the recording that was brought to the Packet from outside the CPD was copied without consent of Columbus Police Chief Selvain McQueen. Officials at CPD said Wednesday that they follow all state laws when it comes to the release of both written and recorded information. (The question as to why some elected officials have unfettered access to that information remains unanswered-CK)
Another of Mayor Smith’s children, his son Sherman Smith, who does have a criminal history, was arrested Tuesday night by Columbus Police and charged with Driving with a Suspended License. Protocol was again followed, and all ranking officers along the chain of command were notified of the arrest. The same source that provided the tape to The Packet said that Mayor Smith had no issues with either arrest and that the Officers were just doing their job.
Leadership within the CPD is said to be considering revisions to their arrest policy in regards to both Suspended License and Contempt of Court charges.
[Whether the fear of reprisal from Mayor Smith is unfounded or not, I can say that it is a real fear felt by Columbus Police Officers. Smith’s brash style definitely is on the minds of most employees of the city, and comes up often in even the most casual of discussions with city workers. Smith has a reputation as a bully, but his allies would say he merely rules with a strong hand.
The Packet has learned that several more Columbus Police Officers will be leaving the force in the next few weeks, which is not good news for Chief McQueen or anyone else living in the city. Turnover is part of the business in a force the size of the CPD, but there has been an exodus of talent in the last few years due to a variety of circumstances. One must factor in that we have had three different Police Chiefs, with three different styles and three different circles of friends in a relatively short period of time. Chief McQueen has much more than crime to deal with on a daily basis, he works at “the will and pleasure of the Mayor and Council” The only constant in that time is that the efforts of both the Mayor and City Council to influence the police department over that time has increased exponentially. Whether that kind of leadership is what our citizens want, that will be decided in next year’s municipal elections. – Colin Krieger]