Three-prong problem with state’s justice system

Published 12:08 am Tuesday, October 2, 2018

News of the shooting deaths of two police officers in nearby Brookhaven is sad indeed. Two officers, who were just doing their duty and responding to a shots-fired call, got gunned down.

Reports of shots fired are too frequent in Natchez and now we learn they are too frequent in other cities nearby as well. Most of the time, the calls turn out to be nothing, at least that’s what Brookhaven Police Chief Kenneth Collins told Brookhaven newspaper over the weekend.

Sound familiar?

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Natchez recently put more teeth in the city’s ordinance against firing guns within the city limits because of the number of such reports. The tougher law allows a minimum $500 fine and a minimum of 15 days in jail for a first offense and a second offense takes it up to a $1,000 fine and a minimum of 30 days in jail.

Given what happened in Brookhaven, the stiffened penalty does not seem stiff enough, especially considering that Natchez has its own shooting problems. For two straight Saturday’s in late September, Natchez had multiple shootings in multiple locations, killing two men and injuring four others.

No one has been arrested yet for the multiple shootings and murder on Sept. 15 in Natchez but two suspects have been arrested in connection to the Sept. 22 shootings and murder in Natchez.

Those arrests revealed a pattern that is almost as regular as the reports of shots fired in our city, that at least one of shooting suspects had done prison time for his part in a similar offense just two years ago.

Turns out he was out on early release after a plea deal and serving 20 to 25 percent of his five year sentence, because the state’s prison system is overcrowded.

Such repeat offenders are a problem that law enforcement officers, prosecutors and judges know all too well and say is brought on by a number of factors, including the overcrowded prison, a lack of jury pool and an underfunded state crime lab in Jackson.

We have reported on the problems at the state crime lab before, particularly in respect to the backlog of autopsies and the problems that backlog causes not only prosecutors and law enforcement officials in bringing cases to court, but also for individuals who have lost loved ones and have to await autopsies to settle up insurance claims.

The crime lab is a problem throughout the state and it, along with the overcrowded prison, necessitates the need for plea deals.

The suspect in the Brookhaven shooting, it turns out, had been out on early release from a prison sentence for auto burglary charges, and shortly after his release he was arrested for allegedly committing auto burglaries in Natchez.

He bonded out of the Adams County system on a fairly hefty $50,000 bond and then failed to show up for his court date. A bench warrant had been issued for his arrest in August.

Then Saturday night in Brookhaven happened.

Fully funding the state crime lab won’t solve all of the problems but it would be a step in the right direction, as would correcting the prison overcrowding problem on the state level. Citizens also need to get involved by reporting potential crimes and being ready to serve as a witness if necessary or to serve on a jury when called upon.

Scott Hawkins is editor of The Natchez Democrat. Reach him at 601-445-3540 or