May 19, 2009
The Columbus City Council tonight is expected to take action on an internal Columbus Police Department investigation of four officers involved in an incident at the Vicksburg National Military Park.
The CPD investigation began nearly two weeks ago after police officials received reports four officers may have been engaging in inappropriate behavior while attending a training class in Vicksburg.
According to eyewitness reports, CPD Cpl. Spence Wallingford and officers Wade Beard, Heath Beard and Robert Walker were driving around the military park in a Columbus police cruiser, playing loud music and riding in the vehicle''s open trunk.
The officers were scheduled to be in Vicksburg May 5-7 for a three-day field sobriety training course sponsored by Sobriety Trained Officers Representing Mississippi.
However, after receiving reports of the possible misconduct, CPD Chief Joseph St. John called the officers home May 6 and immediately placed them on paid administrative leave.
In a letter delivered to The Dispatch, local attorney Rodney A. Ray, who is representing Wade Beard, Heath Beard and Robert Walker, said that officers "did nothing to dishonor the uniform they wear or the people they represent."
"The officers were not blaring music or running people down with their siren or blue lights and showed the proper respect for the solemnity of the park that they paid, using their own money, to tour," Ray wrote in the letter.
Ray did not dispute that two people were riding in the car''s open trunk. He said that a Lowndes County deputy sheriff and his fiancée, rode in the trunk "simply because they were slowly driving through the park, making very frequent stops and it was terribly crowded in the back seat."
Ray also acknowledged that a park ranger responding to a complaint found the officers'' behavior "boorish," but maintains they were simply trying to be friendly.
Although the CPD investigation concluded May 14, police and city officials will not release its findings until tonight''s City Council meeting at the Columbus Municipal Complex.
Because the investigation was deemed a personnel issue, the City Council will discuss the matter in a closed executive session before revealing its findings to the public.
"The Internal Affairs Investigation in this case has been concluded and the final disposition of this case will occur at the Columbus City Council Meeting on Tuesday, May 19, at 5 p.m.," CPD Capt. Fred Shelton wrote in a press release.
"This is a personnel matter and will be in executive session and is not open to the public," Shelton added. "The findings will be released at the end of the session."
Justin Harris commented at 5/20/2009 9:17:00 AM:
I don't understand the comment that this is a personal matter. The officers were at a seminar that the taxpayers funded. Although they were at a park that they had paid to enter, they were still there as a part of the seminar, and were also driving a car that is the property of the city. How does that make this a personal issue?
Ted commented at 5/20/2009 2:25:00 PM:
It's not a personal issue. If people exercise their right to protest and go down there with signs and cause a media circus, I bet it would be public then.
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