January 3, 2012 12:12:00 PM
The newly retired Lowndes County sheriff is looking forward to catching fish.
But he leaves office bothered by the ones he didn't catch -- three cases for which he and the families have no closure.
C.B. "Butch" Howard took a few moments Thursday to reflect on 24 years in the sheriff's office, half of those as chief deputy and the other half as sheriff.
Howard resigned Saturday, two days before the end of his term, so he could begin collecting retirement benefits Monday. The county Board of Supervisors appointed Greg Wright as interim sheriff until this morning's swearing in for Sheriff-elect Mike Arledge.
Howard referred to the murders of three women at Columbus Air Force Base in 1986, a case he inherited from his predecessor, Ed Prescott. He sounded rueful as he noted he will be passing the case to his successor.
Warrants in the case are still outstanding.
"We've come close a couple or three times," he said of the man police believe committed the crime and since left the country. The case was featured on "America's Most Wanted."
The second case was the murder and mutilation of a local woman in the mid-1990s. Two men are serving prison terms for the death, but Howard said he is convinced others were involved.
The third is the disappearance of Kaila Morris, then 21, in 2009. She has not been found despite police using cadaver dogs and helicopters to search Lowndes County, Howard said.
Morris' stepfather, Robert Warren Triplett Jr., is serving a federal prison sentence for child pornography possession. He awaits trial on state charges for the same crime. Evidence of the crime was found when investigators searched computers at the Triplett home looking for leads on Morris' disappearance. Triplett is a suspect in the case, Howard said.
Officers still investigate any and all information they receive on the cases, he said. His retirement does not mean he will let those cases go if he can be any help, he added.
The sheriff's office today
Howard leaves behind a police force of 47 sworn officers. He commended the force and said it is one of the best in the state but added more officers are needed to cover the county's 900 square miles of roads.
Officers are scheduled on four 12-hour shifts with five officers per shift, he said. A wreck or incident at one end of the county could easily leave the rest of the county without an officer on patrol.
The sheriff recommended at least 10 officers be added. The number of officers now is the same as eight years ago, yet many people have moved into Lowndes County, and others have moved from Columbus into the county.
Lowndes County District 5 Supervisor Leroy Brooks commended Howard for his work as the head of the county's law enforcement.
Adding officers, however, is something the Board of Supervisors must look at closely, he said. The sheriff's budget is the largest in the county. Brooks said as a former auxiliary deputy, he understands the needs of the department.
"You never have enough money for law enforcement," he added.
Advice for Arledge
The new sheriff is holding on to one Howard vestige, his chief deputy.
Greg Wright said Thursday he was asked by Arledge to continue as chief deputy. The position is appointed by the sheriff.
Wright said he enjoys his role and is eager to continue.
Howard said his transition to the sheriff's office was made easier by the three terms he served as chief deputy.
"I knew how everything ran," he said. "I helped set it up."
He encouraged Arledge to take care of his employees and listen to the public's advice. "Take things one step at a time."
Howard's own management style was to provide the equipment, money and support to his officers and let them do their jobs and use their own common sense, he said.
Wright said that management style engendered respect among the officers and throughout the county.
Prescott was a good mentor to him, Howard said. He taught patience, how to treat the public and politics.
"I'm not a politician," he admitted, "and this job has a lot of politics in it."
Looking forward to retirement
Howard got the opportunity to say goodbye at a Thursday reception in his honor. He greeted courthouse and law enforcement personnel and the public in the lobby of the Lowndes County Adult Detention Center, which also houses the sheriff's office.
"I want to tell you y'all will be missed, too," he said after reading the sentiment on a plaque presented by his coworkers. "I couldn't have done it without any of y'all."
The court is always looking for bailiffs, 16th Circuit Judge Lee Howard called out.
Howard answered he hung a full set of Class A uniforms in his clothes closet "just in case."
Howard said he's not going anywhere and will still be active in the community. He offered his help to Arledge during the change in administration.
But he has friends who have bass boats. One friend owns property with lakes and ponds.
"I think I'm gonna try 'em out come springtime," he said.
Howard looks forward to dropping a few lines with Prescott.
"I'll be available if he wants to go fishing," Wright added.
1. Wife, mother-in-law of missing New Hope man charged with murder COLUMBUS & LOWNDES COUNTY