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Recent shootings spark intense discussion at Greenville meeting

Chris Jones: Greene Publishing, Inc.

The Town of Greenville held its normally scheduled town meeting at City Hall on Monday, Feb. 13 at 6 p.m. In the absence of Mayor Calvin Malone and Vice-Mayor Kovacherich Arnold, Council Member Barbara Dansey called the meeting to order.  Anticipating a lengthy discussion on the recent shootings in Greenville, the Town Manager, Jim McCroskey, proposed that the Citizen Participation portion of the meeting be moved down the agenda, expediting other business, such as grant applications and a proposal for an annexation covenant. 

Prior to a motion to pass and a vote to approve it, Greenville Town Attorney Clay Schnitker outlined the Annexation Covenant. The Town has the option to, upon request, extend city utilities to areas outside of the city limits. The new covenant would give the Town of Greenville the right to annex or absorb any property outside of the city limits that its governing body chooses to extend utilities to, in the event that geographic growth is warranted.

Schnitker also informed the Council of the recent marijuana dispensary moratoriums that Madison County, the City of Madison, and the Town of Lee have all voted to enact. He proposed delivering a draft of a moratorium for Greenville at the next regularly scheduled meeting, on Monday, Mar. 13, for the Council to vote on. His proposal was accepted by the Council, putting Greenville on track to join the other municipalities and the County in a comprehensive plan to deal with the recent passing of Amendment Two, allowing medical marijuana use and the facilitating dispensaries. Town Manager McCroskey stressed that Greenville cannot completely prohibit dispensaries from opening, and that permitting their number and location does not equate endorsement.

The Citizen Participation portion of the meeting ushered in a discussion about the shootings that took place in Greenville on Sunday, Feb. 12. Dr. Patricia Hinton, the only citizen to speak, asked the Council to pursue the implementation of a Code Red system, that  could potentially warn residents of an emergency. She concluded her statement by saying, for a resident like herself, a warning “would have been nice to have.” Code Red systems, which require residents to subscribe to the service, sends mass messages to the numbers on their list. When later asked about the implementation of such a system, Madison County Sheriff’s Office Major David Harper noted, “There were no less than 300 individuals on the scene; so bad we had trouble getting ambulances in. A code red system would not have helped this situation.”

The tone of the meeting grew tense as questions were posed and statements were made by the Council regarding the Madison County Sheriff’s Office. “I don’t understand why there’s not a police here tonight, here in this building. I don’t feel like this is an isolated event,” said Council Member Joi Collins. She continued by saying “We need more police protection and representation. I don’t see them here. I don’t feel protected by the police. We pay taxes in the county, in this town, we don’t see them.”

Council Member Brandi Seabrooks replied by saying “I would like for the Council to demand that the Sheriff shows up in Greenville, at one of these meetings, invite the community and let him speak for himself, and tell us, the citizens, who elected him, that he’s not gonna do something and put some more police presence; let him tell us that, so when it’s time to elect him again, we’ll remember that.”

Madison County Sheriff Ben Stewart said, on Tuesday, Feb. 14, that the Town of Greenville has been without a police department since 2002, when the two-man force was dissolved. “From 2002 until now, we have had to assume that responsibility, and we can only give Greenville the same coverage that we can give anywhere else in the County,” said Sheriff Stewart. Sheriff Stewart explained that with 754 square miles of County to cover, a thin budget, and limited manpower, the Sheriff’s Office is restricted, for the most part, to being a reactionary force as opposed to a preventative one. “Our deputies (already) spend more time in Greenville, per ratio of our time allotted to the County than any other area in the County.”

The Council appeared to place blame on the Sheriff’s Office for the shooting. “They (Sheriff’s Deputies) were here, but they weren’t patrolling. We need them patrolling. If he was patrolling, he would have caught this, but he was over there where they always be. Ticketing is fine, but we need him to patrol,” said Council Member Seabrooks.

When questioned about the effectiveness of law enforcement presence, Sheriff Stewart replied “If I had 50 cars over there patrolling, it’s not going to prevent situations like this. A patrol car in an area is not going to change the morals or ethical mindset of someone who wants to shoot somebody,” Sheriff Stewart added there were already units on scene with blue lights flashing when the second shooting occurred, suggesting increased presence in the area would not have prevented the evening’s violence. As the investigation into Sunday night’s shootings are ongoing, the Sheriff was unable to give specific information on those involved. “These shootings happened within a block of each other, between two groups of people that mostly live there, over a disagreement,” said Sheriff Stewart.  Once Deputies arrived on scene, they had to stop individuals from destroying evidence of the crime. He iterated that the residents of Greenville have not cooperated with law enforcement in regards to the investigation of the shootings. Council Member Seabrooks echoed that fact during the City Council meeting. “No one is talking to the police. No one is cooperating,” she said.

“All we can do is enforce the law, with the resources that we have, and that is what we will continue to do. We’ll do the same thing in Greenville as we do in Lee, or Pinetta, Cherry Lake, and any other community in this County, to the best of our ability, with our resources,” stated Sheriff Stewart.  He described the environment that facilitated the shootings in Greenville as a societal problem. “We can’t change people’s morals,” he said. “There is nothing I can do about that. I will say that there is a scripture in Proverbs that says, ‘Train up a child in the way he should go, and when he is old he will not depart from it.’ ”

Referencing the dynamic between the Sheriff’s Office and groups within the County, Chief Deputy Epp Richardson said “The Office of the Sheriff and the Sheriff are very supportive of community outreach, all communities, civic groups, and organizations, and have been throughout its history.” He continued by saying “…but that’s a two way street.  It also has to be welcomed and received by a community, group, or organization as well.”

Concluding the meeting, council members instructed Town Manager McCroskey to make law enforcement presence, safety, and economic development his top priorities for the community. Council Member Seabrooks proposed that the Town Manager position be upgraded from part-time to full-time. When asked for his reaction to the proposal, Town Manager McCroskey said “We will have to see if the (Town) budget can facilitate the change. I don’t know if I am ready to recommend myself to work full-time.”

In a message for the residents of Greenville, Council Member Seabrooks said “We just want the citizens to know that we are doing everything possible that we can, and we are going to get the Sheriff in here and we’re gonna do everything possible and make sure that citizens feel safe, and that Greenville will be protected at all times.”

The Sheriff’s Office asks that anyone with information regarding the recent shootings to contact the Madison County Sheriff’s Office at (850) 973-4151.

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