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You may have heard about the plight of a small delta town called Jericho and its assistant fire chief Don Payne. It’s had a few mentions on the news networks and a couple appearances on the AP feed … and I dedicated a post to the story a couple weeks back (Holy Jericho).

For a quick re-cap of events: while in a court hearing over a traffic ticket issued to his son, Don Payne and at least one member of the Jericho Police Department got in an argument stemming from illegal traffic tickets issued to Payne and other residents of Jericho. A scuffle ensued and Payne was shot in the hip by Officer Eric Pharr of the Jericho Police Department. He was hospitalized in Memphis and underwent a five-hour surgery to remove the .40 caliber bullet which had lodged in his hip bone. He was recently released in good health but still requires the use crutches. Following the shooting, Jericho Police Chief Willie Frazier temporarily disbanded the police force and the entire department remains under investigation.

But no charges have been filed against Officer Eric Pharr, who fired on an unarmed Don Payne in front of six other police officers and presiding judge Tonya Alexander (who quickly resigned her post). The Crittenden County Sheriff’s Office, which began investigating other questionable Jericho police acts, has reported no progress in the investigation and has shared little of the information collected about the courtroom incident.

Unfortunately, a gunshot wound was only the beginning for Mr. Payne. Days after being released from the hospital, Jericho Mayor Helen Adams officially dismissed him as assistant fire chief. “As it comes to my attention of the improper behavior that you displayed,” she wrote in his letter of termination. “You have disgrace my name as Mayor.” And to top it off, arrest warrants were issued for his arrest. Let me repeat that: the police issued warrants for the arrest of Don Payne after he was shot by a police officer during court proceedings about the legality of the police department’s actions.

And Officer Pharr, who wounded another officer in the shooting, has not received so much as a reprimand. In fact, he’s back on the beat, writing tickets and patrolling the city as usual. Despite Police Chief Frazier’s promise to disband the police force until the investigation was completed, the department re-assembled after little more than a week apart and resumed their “duties.”

The decision not to prosecute Officer Pharr apparently fell to West Memphis City Prosecutor Lindsey Fairley, who supported the officers’ right to detain the former assistant fire chief. Apparently by whatever means necessary. It was also Fairley who decided to levy the charges on Don Payne. The charges – two counts of felony battery – allege that Payne assaulted Police Chief Willie Frazier by shoving him backward, and then reached for Officer Eric Pharr’s weapon. Which Payne vehemently denies. Thomas Martin, the chief investigator for the Crittenden County Sheriff’s Department heading up the on-going investigation of Jericho’s police force, confirmed not only that the warrants had been issued but that the police claimed Don Payne was reaching for Eric Pharr’s weapon when he was shot. Early reports noted that the bullet struck Don Payne from behind, which was corroborated in the wound as seen in this video (at the :30 mark). But that angle of approach would make reaching for the pistol improbable if not impossible, a particular of the case that no one in authority has yet commented on.

And although the arrest warrants have been issued, they have not been served. Jericho police are back on the streets and are clearly aware of Don Payne’s residence but have made no attempt to take him into custody. “I’m sitting right here just waiting,” Mr. Payne shared from his front porch during a short interview with one Memphis reporter. “I’m not a fugitive.”

Randy Fishman, of the Memphis law firm Ballin Ballin and Fishman, was secured as Don Payne’s legal counsel shortly after the shooting and maintains that the police were not acting in the public’s best interest. “I think an officer should be trained in not only how a weapon should be used but when a weapon should be used,” Mr. Fishman said. He reiterated that pulling a pistol on an unarmed civilian surrounded by police showed poor judgement, and that firing it was negligent at best. “If anyone should be charged with a felony here, it should start with the officer who pulled the gun.” He has also stated that they are prepared to fight any charges arising from this unfortunate circumstance.

And though he is no longer Jericho’s assistant fire chief, the rest of the Volunteer Fire Department fully support him. All 19 members quit the department en masse on hearing of Payne’s dismissal.

On September 9th, the mayor and city council had a “secret meeting” but none will speak to the press about that meeting, the incident, or even the original allegations of police corruption in Jericho. Various reporters have attempted to speak with city officials but met stiff opposition, including a police response.

With a bit of digging, I unearthed the phone number of Jericho City Hall and repeatedly rang it myself … to no avail. The same was true of the Crittenden County Sheriff’s Office. (I hate to think if I lived in the county and tried to ring their offices with an actual problem.) But I take this as a good sign. Because if they aren’t talking, it means they are concerned, and if they are concerned then – just maybe – they have something be concerned about.

I intend to follow this case and update on it when news becomes available. And in the meantime, godspeed to Mr. Payne and Mr. Fishman.

~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~

Related articles and information:

CBS News

Memphis ABC News

KAIT 8 short and video

Original AP article

Payne’s Wife Speaks

Jonathan Turley’s Blog

Jericho City Hall Phone Number: 870-739-3884

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In the flatland of Arkansas’s Mississippi delta rests a small town named Jericho. Just off the interstate and home to less than 200 people, motorists generally pass it by on I-55 without a moment’s notice. Unless you’re driving through town, that is.

“You can’t even buy a loaf of bread, but we’ve got seven police officers,” said former resident Larry Harris.

Some news broadcasts confirm only six but at either count, those police officers were well-known for their propensity to write tickets, to such an extent that many locals and passers-through called the town a blatant speed trap. Among other infringements, officers also routinely wrote tickets while well out of their jurisdiction and for actions which are not illegal. Larry Harris, quoted above, moved away from Jericho to escape law enforcement’s heavy hand there. Another resident stayed in Jericho but agreed that the police were prolific ticketers.

“They wrote me a ticket for going 58 mph in my driveway,” said Albert Beebe, a 75-year-old retiree.

On August 27, the issue came to a head. Local Volunteer Fire Chief Don Payne was issued a traffic ticket and disputed it in court but failed to get it dismissed. He was ticketed again later that day and returned to court to dispute it. This time he let his unvarnished opinions fly in front of the judge and the attending police officers.

At some point, it developed into an argument between Volunteer Fire Chief Don Payne and the police, all of whom attended the proceedings. The argument then turned into a scuffle and Payne was shot. That’s right, in the middle of a court in session, in full view of the presiding judge, a Jericho police officer drew a pistol and fired on the unarmed fire chief.

The bullet grazed another officer and struck Don Payne in the hip. He was transported to the Memphis Regional Medical Center and is currently in good condition.

Presiding judge Tonya Alexander voided all outstanding tickets issued by the Jericho police force for the month prior and, following the incident, resigned from her position. Police Chief Willie Frazier disbanded the force for the time being and the Crittenden County Sheriff’s Office took over policing duties in the area. The identity of the officer who shot Volunteer Fire Chief Don Payne has not been released and Payne is not speaking out on the issue. No charges have been filed against anyone, but Police Chief Willie Frazier and the former police department are now under investigation.

And not just for the shooting. It seems Jericho police had a funding problem. Despite writing unusually high numbers of tickets, which should have generated a lot of income for the town, one of the Jericho cruisers and one of its fire trucks were repossessed. (I have a feeling the loss of that fire truck may have had something to do with the fire chief’s growing displeasure with the police force.) To date, the police have issued no statements and provided no records indicating where the funds may have gone, not even to the sheriff’s office and investigators. Allegations point toward officers pocketing the money themselves. Police Chief Willie Frazier is also said to have used town vehicles for personal use, including repeatedly driving his squad car on 140-mile round-trip excursions to Atoka, Tennessee. The investigation is just getting started.

I believe, in Jericho, walls are about to come down.

You can read more in the AP article or listen to short reports from the regional news station here.

I tagged this as humorous – which it is – but at the same time I am completely disgusted by this reviling excuse for a police department. How many years have they defrauded the public? How many thousands have they illegally collected? And I cannot believe this whole set-up did not raise some eyebrows at county level long before now. Why wasn’t someone with authority asking questions? Just how many towns with a population under 200 can afford half a dozen police? One town I live near has a population of over 400, contains several businesses, and can afford two.

That impossible people-to-police ratio must have attracted attention. The Crittenden County Sheriff’s Office was very familiar with Jericho police, just eight miles away, and it was even reported that Jericho police often left their cruisers at the Sheriff’s Office overnight to avoid vandals. This wasn’t a podunk outpost in a far corner of the county; this was just off the interstate, eight miles down the road, and the officers drove right into the sheriff’s parking lot.

As in most cases, I’d say the corruption surfacing in Jericho is just part of a larger tangle of malfeasance. The real questions, I suppose, is how far the tangle reaches, what all it ensnares, and how many other towns – all across the country – live with one eerily like it on their own streets.

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This is still a fresh and highly contentious subject so please navigate away from this page after the following paragraph if it is too sensitive a subject for you. My thoughts are often … unconventional … and though I certainly mean no disrespect some things I say could be potentially hurtful to others. Please beware.

George Sodini was responsible for the deaths of three women and the injury of several others recently at a gym in Bridgeville, Pennsylvania. He left writings that outlined his plans and general attitude toward life. His last actions were terribly violent and should not be dismissed. These are my compiled notes on George Sodini and my thoughts on his life.

On paper, and even on video, George seemed like a very ordinary man. He worked an ordinary job, drove an unremarkable vehicle, and lived in a perfectly normal house. But he lived there alone and this seemingly led to (or was caused by) some of his personal issues. According to his purported “blog,” he had not been in a relationship since 1984 and had not slept with anyone since 1990. If said “blog” is genuine, it provides quite a peek into a disturbed mind.

The very first entry is studded with spite and dark sarcasm. Further entries blend melancholy, irritation, and disbelief with a perpetual foundation of frustration. “Result is I am learning [life] basics by trial and error in my 40s,” he wrote. “Seems odd, but thats true. […] Too embarassed to tell anyone this, at almost 50 one is expected to just know these things.” Later, describing his mother as a controlling, overbearing woman, he laments, “Why are people vicious with their closest ones?”

It feels almost like there are two different men writing. One is wholly negative, calling younger women “hoes” and stating that he will always be alone. But there is another man, a positive force who tries to hope that things will improve. The trouble is that the negativity always seems to win the argument. “Writing all this is helping me justify my plan and to see the futility of continuing. […] No matter how many changes I try to make, things stay the same.”

But those jumbled, sometimes resentful paragraphs help flesh George Sodini out as a real person, a living, breathing person who made a terrible, terrible choice. They portray a man who is tired of being alone but has no clue how to change. They show how out-of-control his life felt, and how he was convinced he was a total and utter failure as a human being. He seems to be saying, “Everywhere I look people have their shit together. They are getting married, are in relationships, are having kids… What is wrong with me that I am not? Why doesn’t anyone feel remotely interested in me?” None of the entries sound “crazy” or even demonstrably unstable until he mentions having “chickened out” of his plan with the guns in his gym bag. Until that point, he just sounds lonely, possibly depressed. Suddenly the post reveals him to be homicidal, suicidal, unexpectedly dangerous and seemingly without remorse for his intended victims. “God have mercy,” was his only remark.

“I already know what the problem is, but a solution eludes me,” he said months later. He attended church for many years and apparently didn’t want to go to Hell for seeing through this “exit plan” but had been assured such actions would not necessarily damn him. “[P]astor Rick Knapp … teaches (and convinced me) you can commit mass murder then still go to heaven. […] I think [he] did the most damage.” And though he did not consider the “exit plan” a real solution, it seems he could not identify a better option. Why he chose the gym one can only guess. Why his anger was funnelled into a murder spree instead of just a suicide is a mystery. But it seems odd that he would do such a thing when his words indicate that he did not hate women but their (real or imagined) rejection of him and the loneliness which followed.

His words show a man who felt lost and without hope that things would ever change. Expounding on a radio talk show caller, George wrote, “It is the quality of life that is important, he said. If you know the past 40 years were crappy, why live another 30 crappy years then die? His point was they engage in dangerous behavior which tends to shorten the lifespans, to die now and avoid the next 30 crappy years.” He had been recently promoted and liked his new boss, even found his new duties more rewarding. And yet he led a joyless life, ultimately punctuated by the shooting of innocent strangers.

I compiled all these notes and thoughts with one basic goal: to try and understand a man who felt so hopeless that he would take out his frustrations in the deaths of others and then kill himself. Many call him a blatant misogynist but I believe that falls well short. Others have labeled him “psychotic” and “psychopathic” and while I’m not sure that quite covers it, either, I think it is closer to the truth.

Psychopaths are mentally unimpaired but nonetheless engage in self-defeating acts. Often unable to delay or defer gratification, they are prone to impulsiveness, sometimes violence, and are often coupled with an inability to learn from past mistakes. Roughly one percent of the general population are psychopaths. A recent study at the Institute of Psychiatry at King’s College London found that “psychopaths who kill and rape have faulty connections between the part of the brain dealing with emotions and that which handles impulses and decision-making,” according to a Reuters article. The findings were based on a small test group and is expected to be studied further. “As well as finding clear structural deficits in the tract in psychopathic brains,” the article continues, “they also found the degree of abnormality was significantly linked to the degree of psychopathy.”

Which makes sense. The less functional the brain, the more abnormal the behavior of the host. Which opens up a whole new bag of worms. If a brain isn’t functioning properly, how responsible is the host for its actions?

George Sodini decided to take three guns into a gym and shoot people. He decided to turn the last gun on himself and end his life. These were things he chose to do and which cannot be excused. But I wonder how much of the circuitry that led him to that choice was faulty, how much it interfered with his impulses and decisions. I wonder about the other one percent of psychopaths trying to live among us while their brains unknowingly mislead them. It is such a cruel and unpredictable world when the very thing that filters the world around us and keeps us going quietly betrays us.

I am reminded of a quote from Plato:

“Be kind, for everyone you meet is fighting a hard battle.”

If you’d like to read George Sodini’s “blog” for yourself, you can find it here.

And one parting thought … why did George Sodini turn out the lights before he started shooting? Some called it cowardly, insinuating that maybe he could not face the people he killed as he killed them. We will never know for sure, but I like to think differently. He could have hit many, many more of those women if the lights had been on. I like to think it was perhaps a last act toward decency, that if he could not or would stop himself from carrying through with his plan, he could at least try to give them a better chance by firing into the dark.

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