Jacob Bembry interviews Sheriff Ben Stewart. Videography by Brooke Kinsley.
Tag Archive for sheriff
By Jacob Bembry
Greene Publishing, Inc.
Sheriff Ben Stewart and Trooper Jimmy Fulford had many things in common. Like Stewart, Fulford was a devout Christian, a family man and a law officer. They both looked up to their neighbors and followed them into law enforcement. Stewart’s neighbor was former Madison County Sheriff Joe Peavy; Fulford’s neighbor was Trooper B.W. McDaniel.
Because of their common interests and upbringing, Stewart and Fulford became friends. That is one of the reasons that Stewart pursued obtaining a lease on the former Florida Highway Patrol station, which was named in honor of Fulford.
Both Fulford and Stewart worked for the FHP. Stewart, who had worked as a dispatcher for the Highway Patrol, left the year before Fulford began as a trooper. Fulford began with FHP right out of Florida State University, with a degree in criminology. Stewart left to return to work as a dispatcher for Madison County. On Feb. 1, 1992, Fulford’s leaving was far more sudden and unplanned. He was the victim of a bomb that had been planted in a microwave. The bomb was intended for someone else.
It was cold that day when Fulford arrived at work at 3 p.m. at the Madison FHP station. He went on a call to the rest area on Interstate 10 where he helped a woman who had locked the keys in her car. He then spotted a car headed west at 85 miles per hour and stopped the Mitsubishi Gallant in Jefferson County.
Fulford discovered that Lester Watson, the man driving the car, did not have a driver’s license. Fulford arrested Watson on charges of driving without a license and Watson was booked into the Jefferson County Jail. Watson’s passenger, Leroy Williams, asked if he could accompany Watson to the jail.
Fulford discovered that the car had been rented to Paul Howell, of Miami. He had the dispatcher call Howell, who said that he had given Watson permission to drive the car but had not told him to head north with it. During the phone call, Howell never told them that the package contained a bomb that he had intended to send to Marianna to silence a witness who could tie him to a murder.
At the Aucilla exit on Interstate 10, Fulford and Jefferson County deputies Wallace Blount and Robert Harrell searched the car.
Fulford looked through the trunk and saw an empty baby’s bottle and a gift-wrapped package. While waiting for the wrecker to come pick up the car, he searched the Mitsubishi again. He opened the package with his penknife and the bomb exploded, killing Jimmy Fulford.
Fulford’s lieutenant, B.J. Tinney noted that when officers were moving the car away from the blaze so that it would not catch fire, that Fulford’s radio was set to WAFT, a Christian music station in Valdosta, Ga. Officers also noted that Fulford’s watch had stopped at 4:34 p.m.
At Fulford’s funeral, a tape was played of him singing gospel music the First Baptist Church in Monticello, where he served as deacon.
Lester Watson was convicted of second degree murder and sentenced to 40 years in prison. Patrick Howell was sentenced to 40 years in prison without possibility of parole for 25 years. Other members of the Jamaican drug posse involved in the murder coverup were sentenced to extensive prison terms. Paul Howell was sentenced to die for Fulford’s death.
The FHP building where Fulford was stationed was later named after the fallen trooper. Built in 1967, closed in 2011, Stewart feels that the building will be a perfect fit for the Sheriff’s Office.
Privacy and security concerns were two of the biggest factors motivating Stewart’s pursuit of getting the building. Added bonuses are that the office will be closer to the high school and to Greenville, if law enforcement is needed in those areas.
The Sheriff’s Office is located in the part of the Courthouse Annex that used to house Western Auto. Although they are losing some square footage, for Stewart, it’s quite a step up from the current location.
“The original plans had called for the office we’re using now to be a courtroom and boardroom,” Stewart said. “Plans were for the current boardroom to eventually become a driver’s license office.”
Stewart noted that the lease he had signed was for 57 years and the building is rent free.
“The only thing we will have to pay is the electric bill,” he said.
Somewhere in Heaven, Jimmy Fulford must be looking down with a smile because the building where he used to report for duty will still be used for law enforcement today.
By Jacob Bembry
Greene Publishing, Inc.
The Madison County Sheriff’s Office Sixth Annual Golf Tournament has been rescheduled for May 20. Funds raised from the tournament will benefit the Florida Sheriff’s Youth Ranches.
“This is our only fundraiser for the year and we are seeking your support for the event,” Sheriff Ben Stewart said. “As you know, the Youth Ranches offer homes, food, education and direction for many young people who are either abandoned or neglected, helping them become productive citizens.”
Right now, the Sheriff’s Office is seeking sponsors and donations from the public. The public can assist in a number of ways, including:
1. Corporate Sponsorship – $1000.00 (includes Banner, Team and Tee Sign)
2. Gold Sponsor – $750.00 (exclusive tee sign, 4 person team)
3. Silver Sponsor – $350.00 (tee sign with other silver sponsors, 2 golfers)
4. Sponsoring a team – $200.00
5. Sponsoring a hole – $75.00
6. Donating “golf” or other items for the player’s bags
7. Cash donations are always welcome and are tax deductible..
Individuals and companies will receive recognition for their donations. Upon request, they will also be presented with an itemized statement for their tax records.
If anyone has questions, they can contact David Ballenger at (850) 869-0054 (cell) or at (850) 973-4001.
Sheriff Ben Stewart thanks everyone for their support.
By Lynette Norris
Greene Publishing, Inc.
Red velvet ribbons and Mylar heart balloons at the front entrance and on the tables inside were quite a contrast to uniformed Sheriff Ben Stewart and two of his Drug Task Force Task investigators, suited up in Kevlar body armor and seated at the front table.
“We do get accused of looking like ninjas or whatever,” Investigator David Harper would later joke during the presentation, explaining that the drug dealers they go after “are not nice people” and that the drug task force members have to be prepared for unpleasant confrontations.
Sheriff Stewart, who last visited the club in November, was back again this month to talk about the ways the drug interdiction team has benefited Madison County. It was not only by intercepting large amounts of illicit drugs and keeping them off the streets, but also by bringing in large amounts of seized drug money.
Prior to 2009, he said, the County’s entire drug interdiction effort was the responsibility of one man, and it was not even a full-time responsibility.
The man simply had to do what he could, when he could, in between other law enforcement duties.
“Then, about three years ago, David and Doug (Haskell) and I put our heads together, and the biggest thing to come out of it was the Drug Task Force.”
In the beginning, it was difficult, with no money for vehicles, tasers, guns and other equipment, but with what the Task Force was able to do, bringing in large cash seizures, they were able to overcome that, and fully equip their team at no expense to the county.
Additionally, all four of the Drug Task Force members have been deputized as U.S. Marshals and can call on the Marshal’s office when needed, for extra manpower the county doesn’t have to pay for.
Harper then took the floor and began with a slideshow of some of the impressive hauls the Task Force has brought in, including stacks of cash that could fill laundry baskets. Most of the time, he said, the Task Force does the investigation and “makes the case,” then turns it over to the federal agents who make the arrest. The Task Force receives a percentage of any cash seized.
Safer streets and safer children aren’t the only benefits, said Harper. When floods hit the county two years ago, the men of the sheriff’s department were “sitting ducks” without any four-wheel-drives or boats to use in rescues. “Now, we’re much more prepared, thanks to the dopers.” Furthermore, he added, the Task Force is allowed to donate up to fifteen percent of seized money to drug rehab charities.
After the presentation concluded, Wanda Dickinson, grandmother of David Harper and long-retired 30-year veteran of the sheriff’s office, recounted a story of a drug bust from many years ago, when the sheriff’s office was a two-man operation, with her as office financial advisor/office manager. The man they arrested had over $600,000 in cash, “more money than I’d ever seen in my life!” She was even more astonished later that same evening, to see that same man already bonded out of jail and having dinner at Ken’s Barbeque.
This month, the Club also begins highlighting one small business each meeting. This month, it was the Busy Bee on the corner of Madison and Duval Streets. Elizabeth Waring and Michelle Mandziara had just returned from a buying trip in Atlanta, saying that their business, a gift/novelty shop that includes handmade and unusual items, tries to focus on items made in the USA. With each buying trip, they phase out one foreign-made item and replace it with one made in the USA. The Busy Bee also that also sells food items, including their signature Bee Bits, as well as beverages.
Next month, the Club will have a home tour/fashion show/silent auction/fundraiser in lieu of its regular meeting, and Club President Jackie Johnson reminded everyone who had items to donate for the silent auction to please have them turned in by March 3. See any Club member for tickets to the event, now on sale for $25.