Get Involved is Overall Message to Facebook Group

     Members of the Columbus, MS Facebook Watch group and other members of the community met with the City Council and Police Chief Sylvain McQueen, on Thursday, May 31, in a public forum concerning a growing problem in the community – crime. Questions and comments were all over the map, from both the group and the audience.

    Approximately forty citizens attended the meeting, a small number, considering the Facebook Watch group, alone, boasts roughly 4,250 members. The meeting lasted over two hours, and covered issues that ranged from what the community can do to help prevent crimes, to why we have crime, and the outcome of past crime alerts.

     Mac Martin, one of the administrators of the group, was the first to speak. His message was “Divided we fall, united we stand,” which was echoed by Councilman Bill Gavin.

     Group administrator Lynn Nordquist addressed the council with the most important question, “What can we do, legally, to help you, the police department? What do we not need to be doing?”

     McQueen said that what they did not want was anyone trying to intercede in a crime on their own.

     “We don’t want any vigilantes; we don’t want people getting hurt, themselves. What we do need is for the citizens to be the eyes and ears for the police department. When you see things that look out of place within your neighborhood, we need you to do something real simple – call 911 – and make us aware of it, before it evolves into a situation,” said McQueen.

     He said criminal activity could be reported with an assurance of confidentiality.

      Nordquist also asked for an explanation of the curfew law, specifically relating to the time periods when it is in effect, the age range that it applied to, and whether it is being enforced.

     McQueen confirmed that the curfew ordinance is being enforced. He explained that the daytime curfew states that all youth, under the age of 18, are to be in school from 8:30 a.m. – 3:00 p.m., during the school year. Anyone under the age of 18 should be in their home by 11 p.m., Sunday through Thursday, with midnight being the deadline for Friday and Saturday. These provisions are in effect unless a parent or a responsible adult accompanies the youth. He went on to say, if you see youth not adhering to these curfews, call 911.

     Nordquist’s next query concerned what the group could do to help with the “National Night-Out against Crime?”

     “Participate,” said McQueen.

     The “National Night Out against Crime,” is traditionally held on the first Tuesday in August. This year’s event will occur on August 7. The public can participate in one of five locations: the East Columbus Gym, Sim Scott Park, Fairfield Community Center, Southside Community Center, and the Housing Authority office. Exact addresses will be made available, as the date of the event draws near.

     “This is a night to get to know your neighbor. It shows unity in our city. It shows that we are not going to keep putting up with criminal activity. The main focus is to get the community involved,” said McQueen.

     This event also provides back-to-school supplies to school-age children. Councilman Charlie Box went on to say that it was more of a celebration, with a lot of food and entertainment.

     “The City Council, the Chief, and department heads all go around and visit each of the sites, that night,” said Box.

     McQueen said it was a way to interact with police officers, because they will be in attendance. “Get Involved,” was the theme reiterated by McQueen, along with Mayor Robert Smith and all of council members.

     Later, Martin asked if the Columbus Police Department could create a Facebook page to display pictures of wanted individuals, and to put out news of crimes around the community, comparable to what the Lowndes County Sheriff’s Department offers.

     McQueen said, “We can make it happen.”

     Box suggested that another program to get involved in is “Neighborhood Watch.”

     “I’ve created three “Neighborhood Watch” groups and there is always low attendance. Meetings are good, but there needs to be action. Citizens need to take responsibility,” said Councilman Bill Gavin.

     An audience member asked McQueen the question, “Is the punishment for repeat offenders not enough to make them want to stop?”

     McQueen handed the question over to Judge Jim Kitchens, who was sitting with the Facebook group. Kitchens stood and explained our justice court system.  He indicated that many of the people that commit crimes, calculate the time that they may serve, and know how to work the system.

     “People know that, if they do not plead guilty, the trial will be on down the road. Offenders know the math,” said Kitchens.

     There are programs available for inmates to reduce their time and they are aware of it. Kitchens requires that those convicted of crimes get their GED, as a part of the sentence, if they do not already have one. He said that judges almost have to inflate the sentence they hand down, because of all the programs reducing time, while incarcerated.

     Former U.S. Marshall John Fisher stood up and addressed the audience, saying that the criminal justice system is the only justice system that does have flaws, but it always comes back around and corrects itself.

     “We can’t blame Kitchens, the Mayor, or the City Council. The problem is substance abuse in Columbus, Starkville, and West Point. You can arrest 50 people tonight and there will be 50 people to replace them. You’ve got to teach people,” he said.

     Fisher also said that Columbus is losing police because of low salaries. They need a good salary for them to stay in Columbus. Citizens need to give of their resources to support the city. Things are not going to change overnight.

     “Let’s come together, as Mississippians, and do what we have to do,” Fisher said.

     Facebook administrator Dawn Clausen asked about the outcome of several incidents involving gunfire, including instances around Propst Park during a ball game, at Club Heidiho, and occurrences in East Columbus, specifically on Gaylane. All of these situations were broadcast on the Police Department’s radio system, and picked up scanners.

     McQueen responded that the occurrence at the park was not gunfire in the park, but up into the air. The incident at Club Heidiho did not involve gunshots, but had to do with a beer bottle being thrown at a young woman.

     He went on to say that, you can’t believe everything you hear on a scanner. What you hear on the scanner is a report from the dispatcher relaying what the caller said and that is not always the case of what has happened.

     Columbus resident Sylvia Graham said it best, “We have to stop placing blame and take responsibility. Young people need mentors. We are the last generation with good common sense. We need a young adult community center. We need to catch them at an early age and bring in people to mentor them.”

     Graham also commented that parents need to step up and get their children off the street corners.

    There were many more good questions and comments from the group and audience. This public forum, initiated by the Facebook group, will continue each quarter. The community is encouraged to participate and be a part of the solution in taking our city back.

Paige Canida-Greene


Crying “There’s a Bomb Planted Somewhere”

When will this craziness end?  I realize that this question is a riff on one you may have heard, recently, but that doesn’t render it any less appropriate or relevant.

It has seemed as if hardly a day goes by, without some “IDIOT” – that’s right, I said it – calling in a bomb threat to one of our local schools.

The reason that I have referred to the perpetrator (s) as an idiot is that they have, obviously, not considered the consequences of their actions.

Perhaps he (I will use ‘he” for expediency, although the caller could female) called in the bomb threat because he is a student and wanted a day off from school. Maybe he did it because it gave him a feeling of power.  Perhaps he was just bored.

Whatever the reason, he obviously didn’t think about the consequences.  So, “Mr. Perpetrator”, I would like to ask you to ponder the following  questions:

What if your mother or father was having a heart attack, but an ambulance couldn’t get to them in time, because it was tied up at the scene of the bomb threat?

What if your sister, in her haste to get to the school to pick up her child, ran a red light and got injured or killed in a wreck?

What if somebody sees a suspicious package, thinks it just another incidence of “that nutty bomb threat person”, and doesn’t call the authorities? Oh, and then, it really is a bomb and it goes off, maiming or killing untold numbers of people?

Now, one last question. What if the victim in any of the above scenarios was you? Then, the last thought that you would have is “Why was I such an idiot?”


The Real Story Staff Report

Originally Published in March 14, 2012 Print Edition


The Problem with Sherman

The arrest of Sherman Smith is a prime example of when crime and politics collide. Sherman Smith is Columbus Mayor Robert Smith’s son, and his arrest on February 26, 2012 has raised as many questions as it answered. The arrest could have been a simple incarceration, but it has now turned into a much larger problem.

The Real Story has taken the editorial stance that local politics will be our major focus and that individual crimes would be covered on an as-needed basis.  The Sherman Smith case is a perfect example of when crime becomes politics.

In Thursday’s issue of the Columbus Packet, Sherman Smith was the cover story for the publication.  He had been arrested at the scene of a shooting, with a firearm. Though not charged in the shooting, it was not a flattering story.

This revelation caught many people by surprise. Earlier in the week, the Commercial Dispatch had written a story about the shooting, with no mention of the arrest of Smith.  They just reported information about the victim.

Last Sunday’s (March 4, 2012) Dispatch column, “Roses and Thorns”, gave Chief McQueen a thorn for withholding the information.  Stopping just short of calling him a liar, the Dispatch made it known that they were not amused about not being told of the arrest.  And, for good reason.  They had interviewed McQueen about the situation and he did not mention the Smith arrest.  This was an inexcusable folly.

McQueen had an opportunity to come clean with the Dispatch, when they called, but, instead, remained silent.  This is enough to make one wonder what else is happening on at the CPD that is not being exposed.  If an individual or organization will hide something of this magnitude from the media and the citizens, there is nothing else they would not hide.

Kudos to the Packet for getting the story, but it is not their responsibility to share the information with other media outlets.  They held the information until their next issue and released it at the first possible moment that they could put it in print.  That is their job.

It is McQueen’s job to answer questions honestly.  And, apparently this is becoming a difficult stance for him.  He has misled his troops and the media about the promotional process, and even the Mayor was caught in a lie about this matter.  Now, McQueen has been caught in another compromising position, in regards to the Mayor’s son.

In an ironic twist, The Real Story was grappling with how to cover this story and still be true to our original calling.  The reality is, this case is larger because the Mayor’s son is involved.  Sherman is an adult, but his father holds the most important job in the City.

But, now the question lies with why McQueen just did not say that Sherman Smith was arrested at the scene.  He did not have to list him as a suspect.  If he was not sure who the “Shooter” was, just say it.  But, don’t fail to mention that you just happened to arrest the Mayor’s son with a gun, at the same location.  Even if you never mentioned the words, “Mayor’s son.”

There is a reality that the Police Department cannot always release all of the information that they have in their possession.  Sometimes, due to the criminal nature of the cases or its involvement with personnel issues, the information cannot and should not be released.  Also, it is vital that the police never make an accusation they cannot prove.  Never!

In this case, however, Smith had been arrested on the scene, and it should have been reported when McQueen was questioned.  Period. No further questions asked.

In addition, early on Sunday morning, after the “Thorn” was issued, McQueen released the press release that is located on page NEED TO INSERT PAGE # HERE.  In a feeble attempt to sound positive, he talks about all of the success the CPD is having.

The truth is that McQueen is having a difficult transition from Police Lieutenant to Police Chief.  Sunday’s article must have been an eye opener for him.  As it should be.

He is in a difficult position. Since his elevation to Chief, crime has skyrocketed, he has lost the faith of many of the men and women on the department, and he works for an overbearing Mayor.  And, no one on the City Council has the nerve to challenge the Mayor regarding his brutal management style. No one.

McQueen would be wise to re-read the press release he distributed on Sunday morning.  He should reflect on the words and their intent, all the while remembering the Bible verse, “Physician heal thyself.”  A really smart guy once said that!

Joseph B. St. John

a/k/a Mr. MoJo Rising

 Originally Published in March 7, 2012 Print Edition


Facebook Watch Meet & Greet

Members of The Columbus, MS Facebook Watch Group turned out Tuesday, February 21st, at the Columbus Fairgrounds, to meet and get to know one another. In attendance were City and County law enforcement officers, along with Lowndes County Sherriff Mike Aldridge and Columbus Police Chief Sylvan McQueen.

Mac Martin was one of the group’s administrators who spoke about the need to look around and take in all of our surroundings, when we are out and about. He went on to say that you should always keep your head up and look at the people you pass, in the eye. Martin explained that we need to keep our cell phones in our hands, and not in our purse or pocket. He urged us to be ready for anything.

This Facebook group is a great way for residents in Columbus to watch out for one another and stay involved in their community, to ensure that we look crime in the face.

Christy Tracey is a wife and mother of four children and she wants to capture Columbus one photo at a time.

Originally Published in February 29, 2012 Print Edition 


The Arrest of Earnest Talley: One Chapter Closed on an Unrelenting Myth

On Friday, February 17, 2012, the Columbus Police Department announced that an arrest had been made in the 1997 murder of George Wilbanks.  Mr. Wilbanks’ murder had been misidentified and slandered, as part of the CBS 48 Hours television slop-fest that occurred in 2000.  Recklessly and ignorantly, this total mistruth and sham of a program took on a life of its own and shattered the confidence of the community.

Earnest Talley, 44, of Columbus, Mississippi has been arrested, and made his first court appearance Friday. Talley, who has a previous criminal record, was in jail for burglary when he was arrested in the murder of the 70-year-old Wilbanks.  Talley’s bond was set at $2 Million.

Chief McQueen had made the announcement of the pending arrest, the day prior, and seemed genuinely relieved in regard to having some REAL news to share about the crime.  McQueen noted that, over the past 14 years, thousands of man-hours have been spent solving this crime. He was especially thankful to Retired Chief of Police Pete Bowen and Retired Corporal Ed Williams. Present Investigator L.C. Cockrell and the CID were also commended for their hard work in solving the case.

When asked about the investigation, McQueen said, “The right pieces of the puzzle came together.”
At this time, it is unclear if any additional information was unearthed or if a more thorough review of the previously-obtained information led to the arrest. McQueen went on to thank Mayor Robert Smith for his support, in allowing the investigators to go out of town, on several occasions, to do follow up investigations. This was puzzling – to thank someone for allowing you to do your job – but it happened.

McQueen also reiterated his belief that the murders that were mentioned in the 48 Hours episode were not perpetrated by a single serial killer – a fact that everyone in the local law enforcement community has known since the first “Task Force” was assembled to look at the crimes. It was a fact that was forgotten, in many cases, by the media, because the crimes lost a little of their “jazz,” once it became clear the community did not have a rabid, yet make-believe, serial killer running loose.

Most members of the law enforcement community understand that the media has a responsibility to share information with the community.  However, the media also has a responsibility to be as accurate as they can possibly be.  In the case of 48 Hours, this concept was totally lost.

McQueen also asked anyone who had any additional information on cases that have not been solved to step forward, but went on to imply that “bloggers” who gave opinions, and not facts, hurt the situation and did not help the cases.  This is an inescapable truth.

McQueen closed saying, “I pray for the family and hope they find closure.”

But, the reality is, the family and the case will not find closure.  There will be more pictures and details laid out about his murder, many of them false or misleading, and his family and friends will re-live the terror again. This information will be over sensationalized and corrupted for profit and everyone in the community will be able to replay it in their minds, over and over again.

This is 2012, and this is the world we live in.  The news of the arrest was understandably exciting and the fact that a person is possibly being held accountable for their actions brings relief to the community.

On Friday, Retired Police Chief Pete Bowen, when asked by WCBI’s Joey Barnes, agreed that the whole experience seemed surreal.  And, it should.  Fourteen years is a long time, and if Talley is found guilty, it will be a long time for justice to wait to be served.  During the interviews, Chief Bowen stated he felt others could be arrested in this case.  If that is true, then hopefully the other perpetrators will be held accountable, also.

But, as the media hype continues on this case, and you see the dead bodies and the gruesome details, ask yourself if everything you are reading is true and how you would feel if that was your family member.  And, last but not least, remember George Wilbanks was a man.  He should never have been a greatly distorted and shammed news story.  He was already murdered.  Does he need to be victimized, again, for profit?

Joseph B. St. John

A/K/A Mr. MoJo Rising

Originally Posted in February 22, 2012 Print Edition

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