November 11, 2009 9:59:00 AM
Sixteenth Circuit Judge Lee Howard is scheduled to hear arguments Nov. 20 on behalf of four Columbus police officers who lost a month''s salary after a May 5 incident at the Vicksburg National Military Park.
The foursome -- officers Wade Beard, Heath Beard, Robert Walker and Cpl. Spence Wallingford -- lost an appeal to the Columbus Civil Commission in the matter and are taking their case to circuit court.
The officers were suspended for 15 days -- which equates to about a month and more than $3,000 in pay -- after being called home from a three-day field sobriety training course sponsored by the Sobriety Trained Officers Representing Mississippi. They also were placed on probation for six months.
Park Ranger Patricia Montague testified before the Columbus Civil Service Commission on June 17. She said the Columbus police officers, Lowndes County Sheriff''s Office Deputy Scott Glasgow and his fiancée, Ashley Kemp, were "acting like idiots," with the doors of the marked Columbus Police Department cruiser in which they were riding open and its sirens going. Additionally, Glasgow and Kemp were riding in the trunk with a fire extinguisher used to prop the trunk open.
Columbus Police Chief Joseph St. John suspended the officers for their part in the incident, a move supported by the Columbus City Council. Glasgow was given a letter of reprimand, which was to be added to his personnel file.
The law enforcement officers and Kemp signed a letter of apology to Vicksburg National Military Park, Montague and the citizens of Vicksburg saying they "never intended to show a disrespectful manner to the park or Ms. Montague," a point Wade Beard reiterated in his testimony before the Civil Service Commission.
"I''m a country boy," said Wade Beard. "Until Lt. (Keith) Worshaim told me what the word ''solemnity'' meant, I didn''t know what the word meant."
Worshaim interviewed the officers and other parties and submitted a report to the CPD''s disciplinary committee; he made no recommendation for action.
STORM launched its own investigation and chose to allow the officers to retain membership in the organization; the investigative committee recommended the officers "be verbally reprimanded and be asked to submit a written apology."
Wade Beard testified the officers "bumped the siren" and hit the lights while at the Ulysses S. Grant monument in a tribute to Grant.
Montague approached the officers while they were at the monument; she testified she had received at least four complaints about the officers "acting like assholes, idiots, college students." Two visitors to the park had called the rangers'' station; others had stopped her as she drove toward Grant Avenue.
At the time, Wade Beard was driving the police cruiser, assigned to Walker; Heath Beard was riding in the passenger''s seat. Walker and Wallingford were in the back seat, and Glasgow and Kemp were riding in the trunk, which they had requested, according to testimony.
Wade Beard noted they drove one car to save the city money on mileage; the 16-mile road tour through the military park took the group about two hours.
When the group entered the park, Walker, Wallingford, Glasgow and Kemp all were in the back seat.
Montague asked Glasgow and Kemp to get out of the trunk and all parties to put on their seat belts.
Wade Beard testified he had removed his seat belt to pay the attendant at the park entrance. Heath Beard''s seat belt did not work. (Walker already had submitted a request to have it fixed.)
Also, Wade Beard noted, Mississippi state law requires only front-seat passengers and all children under the age of 8 to wear seat belts, and there is no law against riding in the trunk of a car. He also said the couple rode in the trunk for no more than 200 yards, and he was driving no more than 5-10 mph.
The back doors of the police cruiser were "cracked" because the officers did not know how to deactivate the child lock, he said. They stopped at monuments every 50 feet or so, and prior to the doors being cracked, Wade Beard and Heath Beard had to open the back doors to let those in the back seat out at each stop.
Montague also thought Heath Beard''s request to take a picture with her was disrespectful. Heath Beard testified he was taking pictures for his daughter''s school project, Mississippi Notebook. He took more than 40 pictures at the park.
Montague called St. John to report the incident, and the officers returned to Columbus at his request May 6.
The group issued the letter of apology the same day, according to court records.
Heath Beard said the officers and Kemp signed the letter of apology as a "good-faith" gesture, not because they felt they had done something wrong.
Wade Beard said it was done out of professional courtesy, at the request of Michael Vick, chairman of STORM. Wade Beard also noted he signed the letter because he didn''t want Montague to feel disrespected or have any "hard feelings."
He thought the matter would end there.
Reasons cited for the officers'' suspension were driving without a seat belt, violating standard operation of a city vehicle and conduct unbecoming of an officer.
St. John, Vick, and Worshaim also testified at the hearing. Neither Wallingford nor Walker testified before the Civil Service Commission.
The police officers are represented by attorney Rod Ray; Michael Farrow represented the city during the Civil Service Commission appeal. City Attorney Jeff Turnage is listed as the attorney representing the city in the circuit court appeal.
The Vicksburg National Military Park was ordered by Congress in 1899 to commemorate a pivotal battle of the Civil War. The park has more than 1,400 monuments and is the largest Civil War cemetery with more than 18,000 interments, 12,909 of which are unidentified Civil War soldiers.
Warren commented at 11/11/2009 1:07:00 PM:
This appeal will likely have the same results. I'm sorry officers, but you have been placed in a position of TRUST, a position which demands that your actions reflect well on those whom you serve, those who pay you. You failed the test. It is obvious we sent the right officers to the STORM training, it's too bad they could not behave long enough to benefit from it.
devilsadvocate commented at 11/11/2009 2:23:00 PM:
grow up boys and take your punishment and learn from it.
Wade Beard, country boys know the English language, but I to take you at your word that you don't. You need to be sweeping the streets, not patroling them.
elvis2 commented at 11/11/2009 3:50:00 PM:
Sounds to me, these Officers are a bunch of idiots. If one of our kids were doing this, these Bozo's would have them behind bars so quyick u couldn't even blink. What a Bunch of Idiots the Columbus has as police officers...don't even know how to act when out of town.. I think the Need to be Fired, and more intelligent ones need to be hired...like maybe some 4 yr olds. at least when they screw up, it will be because they are ACTING THERE AGES. WHAT A BUNCH OF MORONS....HA HA HA HA HA HA FOOLS!!
LEO commented at 11/11/2009 4:25:00 PM:
Don't judge the whole by a few. That's not exactly fair to the ones that work hard and do right. That's like saying Elvis is an idiot because of what Lisa Marie does. What sense does that make, huh??
Vicksburg Resident commented at 11/12/2009 2:49:00 PM:
The four Keystone Cops are nothing but lowlifes and scum. They should crawl back under their rock. As a former police officer, all I can say is you disgust me. Your police chief, mayor and city council are no better. The four idiots should have been fired, period.
tom commented at 11/13/2009 12:59:00 PM:
You disgust ME!!! Are you going to honestly say that you believe that four officers of the law went to your OH HOLY TOWN, as you people seem to look at it, and purposely tried to cause trouble and be disrespectful? I think not. I think that your park ranger was having a bad day and found someone to pick on and take her frustrations out on! I hope these guys win this battle! We could put up a statue in honor of their victory and then we could have "HOLY GROUND" to protect the way your park ranger does! I know this may sound ridiculous to you but that is the way you sound also! I consider these guys friends and in no shape or fashion do I think they went to that park that night to be disrespectful. Maybe you people should lighten up a little. You said you were a former cop, did you get fired and now you are just angry?
Vicksburg Resident commented at 11/18/2009 9:54:00 AM:
I am retired. You are scum, just like the four clowns.