04-11-2006, 09:22 PM #1
Mississippi Sheriff Who Cut 'Red Tape' After Katrina Faces Charges
Mississippi Sheriff Who Cut 'Red Tape' After Katrina Faces Charges
Updated: April 10th, 2006 03:48 PM EDT
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PENNY BROWN ROBERTS
BROOKLYN, Miss. - Lettie Knight had a feeling she might not make it.
It had been six days since the winds and rain of Hurricane Katrina lay temporary waste to this town - with its one yellow blinking light and a Quick Stop - where she was born 75 years ago and rarely has strayed.
Waves of trucks laden with supplies just passed by on their way to big cities, and Knight - who has diabetes and high blood pressure - had long since run out of water and ice.
"It was so hot, I like to croak," said Knight, eyes suddenly wide and peeking out from behind plastic-rimmed glasses that push back her salt-and-pepper pageboy. "I was nearly dead. My knees just collapsed. I tell you, I was about gone."
That was until an 18-wheeler packed with ice showed up at the Forrest County Agricultural High School - local police and federal helicopters in rapid pursuit.
Forrest County Sheriff Billy McGee and his deputies had just commandeered it and another Federal Emergency Management Agency supply truck sitting idle for three days at a National Guard base, handcuffing and citing a soldier who tried to stop them.
Athletes and honor students were waiting at the red-brick campus to hand out the hijacked booty, and an already mile-long line of desperate rural Mississippians enduring 90-degree days without power was eager to spirit it away.
The now-famous deed has turned McGee into part American folk hero, part suspected outlaw - the simultaneous subject of a country-and-western ballad and a federal investigation.
He faces possible prosecution by the U.S. Attorney's Office in Baton Rouge - an entity already well known for indicting the last three sheriffs of St. Helena Parish. Two were convicted; the third - Ronald "Gun" Ficklin - goes to trial this fall.
Backers from all over the country are contributing thousands of dollars to the Sheriff Billy McGee Legal Defense Fund. And U.S. Attorney David Dugas has been the target of an "open letter" editorial in the Hattiesburg American - the local newspaper - implying McGee faces prosecution for nothing more than exposing the "abject incompetence" of FEMA.
"There's no doubt in my mind if I were a prosecutor I would be wondering what I did to bring this case to me," said Marty Wiseman, director of the John C. Stennis Institute of Government at Mississippi State University. "They're definitely in a quandary because it isn't easy to take a hero - one who acted decisively and courageously - and prosecute them. Many people will never put the two together that in the process, he did interfere with an officer of the military just doing his duty."
'Straight as an arrow'
On the advice of his attorney, McGee declined to be interviewed for this story. His attorney, Jim Dukes, said last week he doesn't want to "back the prosecutor in a corner" with continued publicity about the case.
The 53-year-old sheriff with a characteristic crew cut has been in law enforcement much of his life, as was his father before him. He first was elected in 1991 and - according to news accounts - hasn't faced any serious opposition in four terms.
Buddy Baron, a disc jockey for the local country radio station, described McGee as "a soft-spoken but diligent public official. He's kind of like an Andy Taylor. The man is clean as a whistle."
Paul McMullan, who retired as chief executive officer of First Mississippi National Bank about 25 years ago, has known McGee for more than three decades.
"He's tall and straight as an arrow - both in his stance and in his ways," said the longtime Mississippian who started the legal defense fund. "Right now, he's a hero in these parts."
That distinction emerged Sept. 4 - six days after Hurricane Katrina barreled through Forrest County with 100-plus mph winds, leaving residents in the sweltering heat without power and basic supplies.
According to an account McGee gave the Hattiesburg American in February, Forrest County Emergency Management District Executive Director Terry Steed told McGee early that morning that five trucks of ice and water bound for Hattiesburg lost their way from Jackson and wouldn't arrive until the next day.
After learning of a FEMA staging area at Camp Shelby - a National Guard base just a few miles south of town - McGee tried for five hours to get in touch with federal authorities, hoping they might release some of the supply trucks parked there.
Failing that, he and three deputies went to the base early that afternoon, where they were told there were two trucks filled with ice that had not been assigned a destination.
The drivers agreed to follow the deputies to Petal and Brooklyn, but as they drove away, Capt. Michael Bryant - a National Guardsman - jumped on the side of the lead truck, "either trying to get the keys or pull the driver out," McGee told the newspaper.
When Bryant refused to stop, deputies handcuffed him, placed him in a patrol car and drove him to the Sheriff's Office. He was cited for interfering with an officer and released.
"I didn't see anything wrong with what I was doing other than it was outside the protocol," McGee told reporters. "This is more an indictment of the federal government than of me. This is a failure of the process."
Butch Benedict, the county coroner, was in Brooklyn with a contingent of volunteers, awaiting arrival of one of the 18-wheelers. He was confused by the local police cars and federal helicopters chasing the truck - until he learned how it got to town.
"There was a line of cars a mile long waiting for that ice," Benedict said. "I think they realized they had a bigger fight on their hands if they took the truck away, so they left us alone."
An American hero
There's little doubt how the residents of Forrest County feel about Sheriff Billy McGee.
They circulated petitions insisting that he acted in their best interests by commandeering the trucks and bombarded the local newspaper with letters expressing the same sentiment.
A few weeks ago, the Board of Supervisors honored him for his service in a ceremony attended by dozens of law-enforcement officers, judges and county workers.
And B95 - a nationally recognized country radio station in Laurel - gives frequent airplay to "Haulin' Ice: The Ballad of Billy McGee," written by a journalism professor and musician from Georgia.
The tale of Billy McGee is spreading beyond county lines. After a report aired on CNN two weeks ago, Anderson Cooper's blog was inundated with e-mails from Massachusetts to California - some from Baton Rouge - most of them offering accolades.
The sheriff remains a frequent topic of conversation at the Brooklyn Quick Stop - no more worse for the hurricane, save for perhaps a bit more rust on the sign perched atop the cabin-like building.
Behind the counter - her head framed by rows of chewing tobacco and cigarettes - cashier Pamela Anderson recalls waiting in line nearly three hours to get ice that day.
"If it wasn't for Billy McGee's ice, we wouldn't have had nothin'," the 53-year-old said. "He took the ice, but we all went and got it. If they prosecute him, they should prosecute all of us."
Barefoot and fresh from a swim in nearby Black Creek, Shaughn Jones - a 16-year-old Forrest County Agriculture High School soccer player who helped hand out the supplies - said the sheriff "really helped us out in a time of need."
In Sheeplo, a tiny African-American community situated on a loop miles from the nearest town, Ronnie Mackey remembers some of the purloined ice and water being delivered to his door even as the roads were blocked by limbs.
"Somebody had to be responsible," the 34-year-old said. "Nobody was doing anything. I don't know how they can blame that man."
'Very early stages'
As it stands, McGee hasn't actually been blamed for - or charged with - anything, and it isn't clear whether he ever will be.
The sheriff agreed in February to plead guilty to a misdemeanor charge of interfering with, intimidating and impeding a federal officer. He has said he did so to prevent three deputies who acted on his orders from being prosecuted, and because it would allow him to remain in office.
But in March, U.S. Attorney Dunn Lampton of the Southern District of Mississippi recused himself from the case for reasons that haven't been made public.
The U.S. Department of Justice handed over responsibility to the next closest district able to take it on - the Middle District of Louisiana, based in Baton Rouge. First Assistant U.S. Attorney Lyman Thornton and Assistant U.S. Attorney Richard Bourgeois are the appointed special prosecutors.
U.S. Attorney David Dugas said he knows of no instances in Baton Rouge in which prosecutors have squared off against such a popular public figure. But he said the Department of Justice frequently has pursued legal matters in spite of public sentiment, as in civil rights enforcement.
He said the McGee investigation remains in the "very early stages," and it isn't clear how long it might take to complete. He would not discuss specifics of the case, saying "at this stage, it's particularly important we not prejudge it."
What remains unclear from public accounts of the incident is whether the sheriff diverted supplies intended for other critical destinations, and whether the soldier was injured.
Attempts to reach Pete Smith, the press secretary for Mississippi Gov. Haley Barbour - who reportedly pushed for McGee's prosecution - were unsuccessful. The Advocate left two voice mail messages last week. The Mississippi National Guard repeatedly has declined to comment on the incident. And Eugene Brezany, a FEMA spokesman based in Mississippi, referred all questions to Dugas.
While Dugas is aware of McGee's growing hero status, he said public opinion will play no role in the decision whether to prosecute.
"The days after Hurricane Katrina were an emotional time, and I frankly think it's understandable that based on the information they have right now, people would have strong feelings," he said. "In the end, whatever action we take will be based on facts of law and the evidence and at that time, people can form an opinion about whether we've taken the appropriate action."
Nonetheless, those opinions are as abundant as the gravy that comes on open-faced steak sandwiches, French fries, and pretty much everything else on the menu at the Coney Island Café - a diner just a few blocks from the Forrest County Sheriff's Office in downtown Hattiesburg.
John Richard Thompson, a 70-year-old retired grocer, thinks federal prosecutors are wrong about McGee.
"I don't know why they're trying to string him up."
But John Garner, who runs a wholesale electrical supply business with his brother, J.D., believes authorities will drop the case.
"He acted when money would not buy ice," the 67-year-old Petal resident said. "He made a critical decision in hard times when the government bogged down."
Moments later, a freight train rolled by the restaurant - so long it took several minutes to pass. Its only cargo: metal white FEMA trailers, like the kind still sitting empty in Hope, Ark.
Just thinking about this makes my blood boil.
04-11-2006, 10:00 PM #2
good. I'm usally pro-law enforcement, but the way he and his deputies treated the military officer is beyond reprehensible.
04-11-2006, 10:11 PM #3
I have to wonder how the Sheriif would have felt if the shoe was on the other foot, and one of his deputies was hand-cuffed/transported/cited for guarding supplies?Molly Weasley makes Chuck Norris eat his vegetables.
04-11-2006, 10:55 PM #4
So McGees trucks were set to arrive the next day; but instead he hijacked / kidnapped some other trucks? From a military staging area? Folk hero? What?
Sure he got the ice and water to THAT town, but who knows what other folks missed getting THEIR ice and water? And did he replace the ice and water he STOLE with some from his own trucks? Folk hero? What?!
This is sounds like selfishness in a time where everyone needed to work together. Because things were 'tuff' and 'sticky' doesnt mean order should have been flung asside.
FOLK HERO to some, villian who stole supplies to others? I'm not saying.
Last edited by Zipcreature; 04-11-2006 at 11:01 PM.THIS POST IS NOT DIRECTED TO ANY ONE.
04-12-2006, 04:40 AM #5
Originally Posted by Zipcreature
- Join Date
- Jul 2005
umm the two truck were not assigned to any town... i'm guessing they were just back up or something.
04-12-2006, 07:38 AM #6
can't say either way,
the state constitution gives the sheriff a lot of power,
was federal marshal law imposed.....????
if not , this is a state issue, if he acted within the scope of his duties,
in a time of emergency, their would be " probable cause " to believe he
acted for the good of the public, and the people of the state derived benifits
from said action, he should have deputized that military dude, gave him a lawful order, if refused, then take action.
their is no second guessing, it's either he acted in good faith or not
for the general welfare of the people, the constitution of the state.
( putting up my shields, for the mud slinggin,.... ...)" if you talk in your sleep, don't mention my name....
" if you walk in your sleep, forget where you came....
04-12-2006, 07:54 AM #7Brav989Guest
Could have been avoided if the federal government didn't have their head up their *** the whole time.
04-12-2006, 08:04 AM #8Originally Posted by Brav989
people were in they simply could not wait one more day after waiting 5 days.
Forest County is just north of the coastal counties,they diffently needed the supplies.
04-12-2006, 09:37 AM #9
If you didn't live through this hell you really cant understand it,also if you dont know the lay of the land.These are all rural areas,with larger towns anywhere from 10 -20 miles away.Now realize this most roads are completely blocked by downed trees and power poles,NOTHING is open due to damage or no power.FEMA was delivering only to the large towns,which meant if you wanted ice,water or food ,you would have to get in your vehicle and attempt to find an open path (you could no longer call them roads)to get to town,having to stop and backtrack many times to find a route.This process took a normal 15-20 minute trip to town ,into a 1-2 hour ordeal,all this time you are burning gasoline,and when you get to town and get your 3 gallons of water,6 MREs,and 3 bags of ice,you get to take it home before it melts,gas gauge on empty?just pull in and fill it up.OOPS thats right no power and no way for fuel trucks to get through if there was power.And the good part ?you get to do this again tomorrow!!So your local sheriff decides to bring life supporting supplies a little closer to the folks he is SWORN to protect.Without going into detail for obvious reasons,I can assure you that the sheriff was not the only "hijacking" LEO on the roads those days,he just got busted.My vote? definate hero!
04-12-2006, 07:41 PM #10
How bout the Sheriff gets an award....and go after the FEMA idiots....not the guy who took charge.Anyone who believes "the customer is always right" has never been a police officer.
04-13-2006, 04:07 PM #11
- Join Date
- Jan 2006
One of the many small leaders that had the guts to do something while the government sat around trying to figure what to do. Elect him to a higher office and kick the so called experts out.Assume is to make *** out of u and me
04-13-2006, 05:24 PM #12
I would like to thank you guys (guyettes?)from Fla. that support me on this,when I read the posts from the yankees and Calif. "dudes"I figured I would catch hell on this one.I have done so before.7 weeks after the hit I was finally abel to get online (at my daughters house 40 miles away)and went to a LEO site that I at that time frequented,when I went ballisitic on fema (no caps) and red cross,it was deemed by the powers that be I was not a LEO,and was banned from the sight.I have since been redeemed(read the news papers)but it still hurt like hell.So once again Thanks for the support.
04-13-2006, 05:38 PM #13
That sheriff is lucky he didn't get himself shot. If that officer was active duty instead of a national guardsman (no offense, BUT) he probably would have been. I've had the experience more than once when the locals have attempted to interfere with the military and have found themselves on the buisness end of an M-16 or .50 cal.
04-13-2006, 05:52 PM #14Originally Posted by equinox137
active duty or not....that sheriff run's the county, and the state is soverighn.....the active duty officer is a nobody unless their is marshal law or the war powers act has been put in place......." if you talk in your sleep, don't mention my name....
" if you walk in your sleep, forget where you came....
04-13-2006, 06:12 PM #15Originally Posted by ftlaudcop
I understand that many LEOs see soldiers as "nobodys", but either way, that sheriff is lucky he didn't get himself shot, given the circumstances. Had he tried that with an active duty unit, he most likely would have been.
Last edited by equinox137; 04-14-2006 at 01:51 AM.
04-13-2006, 10:36 PM #16Originally Posted by ftlaudcop
The sheriff might run the county, but he has zero authority on a military base. He entered a base, kidnapped an officer and stole 2 trucks. He should of been shot.
04-14-2006, 01:42 AM #17Originally Posted by NavyCop
As far as "kidnapping" the company commander, that is also a stretch. That would have been an unlawful arrest at most.
My point was that if he tried that with the company commander (as this military officer clearly was) of an active duty unit, (my god, especially an infantry unit) his troops probably would have at least drawn their weapons on the sheriff, and possibily opened fire if the situation got too ugly. Veterans that remember General Orders drilled in during basic training or having to hold post in a hostile area will know what I mean. This sheriff was lucky that order didn't go out to these national guardsmen.
Believe me, it's ugly for everyone involved. No one wants to see a scenario where American soldiers and American police get into "mexican standoffs" but it HAS happened before on occasion.
And let's not forget that there WERE active duty units deployed to the area. That situation could have ended tragically because this sheriff decided to get badge-heavy.
Last edited by equinox137; 04-14-2006 at 03:10 AM.
04-14-2006, 01:42 PM #18
I just think it's a really tough call. Was Louisianna under marshall law at the time? Is it really safe to assume that those trucks really had no destination? How many other communities were in dire straights, but hadn't been reached yet?
Why didn't the Sheriff contact the CO of the base, and try to work something out? Just because FEMA had been castrated by being absorbed into Homeland Security doesn't mean there wasn't wiggle room, since supplies assigned to the area were enroute.
I think it was mishandled by ALL parties, and everyone of those deputies and the sheriff need to remember that they may well be in the same position as that Guard was, and ask themselves how they could have handled it better.
I don't think the Sheriff was a hero, or a villian - he was just a human trying to help his community.
We are all in this together folks, and it's easy to Monday morning quarterback in both directions. To those of you living in the areas hit so hard (remember Mississippi anyone?) try not to take it personal if some people express a viewpoint that's the Guard's perspective.Molly Weasley makes Chuck Norris eat his vegetables.
04-14-2006, 07:11 PM #19
Willow I can tell you the entire situation was fubar,The guy they put in charge of our distribution point was a fed o.k. ,and not saying anything against them,but you tell me what a U.S. forestry agent has to do with emergency supplies.He hoarded the stuff like he was going to have to pay for it.Then it got to be lets make a deal,at one point he had over 12 18 wheelers loaded with ice but wouldnt release any because he might "need" it later.It finally got to "I will trade you 3 trucks of ice for 1 truck of misc.goods"(read,toilet paper,band aids,all that stuff that was collected by the wonderful citizens across the rest of the country,and then foolishly turned over to the feds),This is when it started getting a little testy and a little sneakiness was required.I could go on but I know all you guys have got to be getting sick to death ,(as are we) of the word Katrina...
04-14-2006, 07:49 PM #20Originally Posted by mavriktu
Thanks for your perspective.
So many of us were so far away.
One would hope supplies were effectivley deployed, but how do you pre-plan for something of this magnitude? Where do you "stage" units and supplies?
Personally I have to give props to the Sheriff for looking out for his people, but I've learned you have to allocate the limitted reources that you have.
I know if I can "find" another resource it's always appreciated by those in the field.
"Don't tell me how, just do it". Seems to be the rule when people are in genuine distress."The statements and opinions contained in this communication do not necessarily reflect the official position of the Commission regarding these issues."
Justice for Officer Daniel Faulkner
09/11/2001 Never Forget
04-14-2006, 09:49 PM #21
- Join Date
- Oct 2005
Sheriff was rightfully charged. Great for the people who back him, but he should still take his lumps. The act of arresting a Capt in the army (I gives a rats if he in National Guard) is f*cked up. The sheriff should be thrown in jail a long time just for that.
Red tape SHOULD have gone out the window. However, theft is theft.
Now what if ANOTHER sheriff hijacked this sheriff's convoy? By anyone's standards here, THAT sheriff would be seen as a hero, because "he was just looking out for his own, right????"
04-14-2006, 10:47 PM #22
glad we have mixed thoughts....some rather irational to say the least,
once again....constitutional law.....101........
no marshal law, no war powers act,
the sheriff derive's his power from the state constitution.......
' he can deputize, or raise the power of the county '
at anytime, including and not limited to civil disturbances, or natural disasters.
his power is paramount ' above all others '....
some are acting as if he is a wachenhut guard and a sneak thief........
i am sure, like most sheriff's he may have been a special u.s. deputy marshal as well.......
with that said and done.....read your state statute on what his broad
powers are.....!" if you talk in your sleep, don't mention my name....
" if you walk in your sleep, forget where you came....
04-14-2006, 10:54 PM #23Originally Posted by mavriktu
I hope the make FEMA independant again.Molly Weasley makes Chuck Norris eat his vegetables.
04-14-2006, 11:11 PM #24Brav989Guest
Again, the federal government should not have had their head up their ***;like they have the last 6 years.
04-15-2006, 12:02 AM #25
- Join Date
- Oct 2005
You are right. I wasn't there. But I was in NY and witnesses 9-11 first hand. Therefore, you can't talk about that since you weren't there. We should start bombing Syria and Iran as a first and stop bitching about wiretaps, "torture", etc.