Notes from the cops and courts beat
June 24, 2001
One of the problems with the American justice system is how few people have a chance to see it in action especially from behind the scenes. Sometimes details can be as illuminating as stories about high-profile trials. Here are a few observations from the cops and courts beat in Lauderdale County.
New take on plea agreements:
A couple of people have asked why Roderick "Ra-Ra" Brown received a suspended sentence in Lauderdale County Circuit Court. Brown pleaded guilty to aggravated assault June 12 in the non-fatal shooting of 17-year-old Ricky Hersey. He was sentenced to 20 years in prison, with 20 years suspended and five years probation.
In comparison, his co-defendant who pleaded guilty to robbery in connection with the same incident was sentenced to one year in jail.
A courthouse employee speaking informally said, "It seems strange, but sometimes they do that, hoping that the defendant will mess up his probation. That way, instead of getting a light sentence, they can give him the maximum."
When a defendant signs a probation order, he generally agrees among other things to break no laws, ingest no controlled substances and associate with no person previously convicted of a crime. Even a minor violation is sufficient to revoke the suspended portion of the sentence in Brown's case, 20 years.
If true, it's an interesting notion, given people's dissatisfaction with plea agreements and the criticism that, "Nobody ever gets tried, everybody pleads."
Did you notice?
In April, a Lauderdale County jury acquitted contractor Wayne Raley of all counts in a federal indictment accusing him in an alleged conspiracy to defraud Comcast of $2.6 million between January 1994 and August 1996. In June, the readers of The Meridian Star voted him "Best Contractor" in the 2001 People's Choice Awards.
It's for your own good…
I had the impression during the end of May and beginning of June, during "Click it or Ticket," that the Meridian Police Department and the Lauderdale County Sheriff's Department meant to ticket drivers who were not wearing seat belts.
The truth is failure to wear a seat belt is a secondary offense. If you are stopped and everything else is in order, officers cannot ticket you solely for not wearing a seat belt. Researching back issues of The Meridian Star, I found the original story announcing the campaign said so if you read down far enough.
The good news is I, who have never worn a seat belt, got into the habit during those two weeks. Still, the "Click it or Ticket" campaign had a deceptive title.
About Tyrone Tillman:
On May 28, Tyrone Tillman was charged as an accessory after the fact of murder in the shooting death of Tyrone Moffett. The victim's body was discovered on Will Wright Road, beside his car.
Tillman is in custody at the Lauderdale County Detention Facility, but his name has appeared in The Meridian Star's arrest report four times since he was charged presumably for prior crimes.
On June 2, the Meridian Police Department charged him with simple assault. He was charged with contempt of court on June 3 and June 9. On June 12, his bail bondsman "surrendered" his bond on a previous charge of domestic violence brought by sheriff's deputies.
Sources who do not care to be named also report that Tillman was "banned for life" from Bonita Lakes Mall in the months preceding his latest arrest.
The scales of justice:
Lauderdale County Circuit Court has new docket books big, red, hardbound, hand-written volumes that briefly list the motions filed and actions taken in each case. The old volumes weighed 17 pounds each. Clerks can't get as many cases in the new ones, but they are only half the size and easier to handle.
Top cop to history teacher:
Meridian Police Chief Gregg Lewis has announced his resignation. He says he wants to be a history teacher, and I think he'll make a good one.
I asked Lewis to write a column for Profile 2000: Message in a Bottle last year. His subject was, "Who is your favorite U.S. president?" He said, "No problem, I can whip that out in no time. I know just who I want to choose."
About a week later, he called back. "Listen," he said, "this is tougher than I thought. I've been doing a lot of research. Did you know…"
Twenty minutes later, we had set a new deadline for his column and I knew a lot more about U.S. presidents. But what struck me was the enthusiasm the chief had for American history. He couldn't talk fast enough to tell me all the things he had discovered or remembered. We could stand to have that kind of passion in the classroom.
By the way, he chose Teddy Roosevelt.
Suzanne Monk is managing editor of The Meridian Star. Call her at 693-1551, ext. 3229, or e-mail her at firstname.lastname@example.org.