February 7, 2018 10:53:01 AM
Zack Plair - [email protected]
A man claiming to be a licensed private investigator harshly criticized Columbus Police Department Tuesday evening for its efforts to find a missing autistic man in late January.
During a rant that lasted roughly 10 minutes during the public comments portion of the meeting, Erise Wilson -- who also claims to be a retired federal law enforcement officer -- said his work with Columbus Fire and Rescue is what truly "negotiated the return" of 25-year-old Christopher Reed. He said CPD, namely Chief Fred Shelton, had unduly taken credit for Reed's return and he forcefully, even somewhat threateningly, called on Shelton to "resign or retire."
"You got a pissed off retired agent of the U.S. Department of Justice on your trail," Wilson warned Shelton before he finally yielded the floor Tuesday evening in the Municipal Complex.
Reed disappeared on Jan. 22 from the 19th Street home where he lives with his aunt and uncle, sparking a three-day search that involved police, firefighters and private citizens before the man was found safe in his own backyard on the evening of Jan. 24.
Shelton, speaking with The Dispatch on Tuesday, confirmed the whole incident boiled down to a custody dispute wherein Reed's father, who lives in Macon, was trying to show the aunt as incompetent to take care of Reed.
To that end, Shelton said, investigators learned after Reed's return that another relative had pulled up in a vehicle to the 19th Street residence on Jan. 22 while Reed was sitting on the porch alone and asked him to get in. Reed did so willingly, Shelton said, and the relative took him to his father's house in Macon.
Ensuing media coverage, as well as a Mississippi Bureau of Investigation-issued Silver Alert, "put pressure" on the father, Shelton said, and someone dropped Reed off about a block from his Columbus residence moments before he was spotted at home Jan. 24.
Wilson, on Tuesday, claimed Reed was kidnapped and three firefighters -- including Chief Martin Andrews -- learned of Reed's whereabouts and "negotiated his return." He said CPD had "nothing to do" with the investigation.
Shelton refuted the claim and also stood by previous statements that no criminal activity had taken place. Reed is an adult, Shelton told The Dispatch, who left the 19th Street residence willingly, circumstances that rule out kidnapping.
He also said Wilson is not a certified private investigator and his credentials are fake.
"Columbus Police Department did an exceptional job," Shelton said in response to Wilson's allegations during the meeting. "We will continue to do that job every day."
Later, Shelton also complimented CFR's work on the Reed case.
Wilson is a relative by-marriage of Reed's and a cousin to Andrews. For his part, Andrews said CFR and CPD worked hand-in-hand in searching for Reed and also confirmed there were no "negotiations" with Reed's family members for his safe return.
Andrews declined to comment further on the record.
On Tuesday, Shelton did bestow a CPD honor to civilian Jessie Drew, who used social media to organize two search parties to look for Reed after his disappearance. The first search party of about 30 met on Jan. 23 and included CPD and CFR officers along with concerned citizens. Reed was found about an hour before the second search party was scheduled to meet.
Zack Plair is the managing editor for The Dispatch.