Grand jury is right about juvenile detention center

By By Suzanne Monk / managing editor
March 31, 2001
A grand jury met last week at the Lauderdale County Courthouse. Over a five-day period, the 18-member panel interviewed 73 witnesses and issued 434 indictments. In 18 cases, the grand jurors declined to indict.
The list of indictments will not be available until the Circuit Court staff finishes processing the paperwork.
As usual, the cases presented by District Attorney Bilbo Mitchell and his staff were predominantly about bad checks and drugs. One murder case and one manslaughter case were presented, as well as two DUI manslaughter cases one involving alcohol and the other drugs.
The grand jury's schedule also included a tour of county-owned property. Like every grand jury before them for at least five years, they criticized the condition of the H.C. Mike Watkins Juvenile Detention Facility. They said it looked like the juveniles were being held were in "kennels," and recommended new construction or major renovation.
They are right.
The Lauderdale County Board of Supervisors had hoped to establish a line of credit with the Mississippi Development Bank, and borrow money at 2.95 percent interest to re-work the building. That idea fell through when a citizens group petitioned successfully for a county-wide vote on the issue.
County and city leaders need to put their heads together and find another way. We've got to do better than this.
Quick takes:
MPD officer selected: You sometimes see grand jurors out and about, wearing identification badges and always escorted by a bailiff.
This grand jury included a high-ranking Meridian police officer. Someone like that may have outside knowledge of many of the cases presented, and I asked about his selection. Like any other grand juror, he had to recuse himself and leave the room when cases he was familiar with were being discussed.
Sex offender: A sentencing hearing in a less-publicized sex abuse case was held Friday, the day after Harland Craig Renfrow was sentenced to life for sexual battery against his daughter.
James Joseph Broderick was sentenced to a total of 60 years for two counts of lustful touching of a child and two counts of sexual battery against a child. Like Renfrow, he is related to his victim. Some of the sentences run concurrently and some consecutively, but he will spend 30 years in jail.
Drug task force: Another mistaken identity lawsuit against the East Mississippi Drug Task Force has come to my attention. This one was filed in October 2001 in Lauderdale County Circuit Court.
The indictments against Earnest C. Ball say he sold marijuana to an undercover agent on two occasions. The criminal case was active for about a year, and then the indictment was dismissed "due to misidentification of the defendant by the undercover agent."
Ball says he spent seven days in jail after his arrest and lost his job at Clearspan, where he had worked for seven years as well as his health insurance, life insurance and retirement benefits.
He is asking for $250,000 in damages.
Back to basics: Tax Collector Stanley Shannon came back from heart surgery several weeks ago sporting a mustache. He has since shaved it off. He says he was "going for the Errol Flynn look and it just wasn't working out."

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