COVINGTON — Since the beginning of April, the Newton County Sheriff’s Office and the Covington, Oxford, and Porterdale police departments have agreed to limit arrests in a united effort to minimize the spread of COVID-19 in the Newton County jail, either writing citations or taking warrants for nonviolent offenses that will be executed at a later date.
While the efforts have paid off in terms of keeping the pandemic out of the county jail, as nonviolent offenders are realizing they won’t get locked up, their lack of respect for the law and law officers appears to be growing.
Covington City Councilmember Fleeta Smith Baggett gave a prime example of that lack of respect that occurred recently in the city, and expressed her concern for the safety of the officers.
“Last week some officers had to come to town to deal with some problems we were having with guys on skateboards,” Baggett said at the Nov. 16 meeting of the council. “I cannot tell you how appreciative I was of how they (the officers) held their composure. I have never, in my entire life, seen people be as ugly to anyone as I saw these three be to these officers. Everything from going to Facebook Live to ugly hand gestures to calling them names, and this was at noon on a Tuesday.
“So I cannot imagine what they are facing Friday night at midnight. And I don’t know what else we can do to help you. I’m still deeply concerned that we don’t have a jail because all three should have been locked up immediately. The only thing they did not do to our officers was put their hands on them. When it was all said and done, they got on their skateboards and rode off, and there was nothing we can do because we cannot lock people up.
“It is a bad problem. I’ve just have never seen such a lack of (respect of) authority by anyone ever, in my entire life. And it went on and on and on, probably for 30 minutes. And all I could think about were the resources that were being wasted and how they should have been tossed into the back of a patrol car and taken to jail.
“I felt bad for the older people that witnessed it, the children that witnessed it, and I felt bad for our officers having to stand there and take it and be embarrassed. I just don’t think that should happen. When we don’t have any recourse as to what to do with them, we’re going to continue to see that amp up.
“We’ve got to do something because the word had gotten out,” she said, “and I fear for your safety because I don’t want anyone to hesitate and we have something tragic happen.”
Police Chief Stacey Cotton recalled that day and what was happening, and said they will soon be able to do more than just issue citations, thanks to the efforts of the Newton County Sheriff’s Office.
“That was actually election day when we were out and about and that occurred,” Cotton said. “About nine hours later I was out on the Square to see what happened, and I came across some more skate boarders right in front of Lee’s Fashions. I told them to get out of there, and as I was walking away from them, I saw two more down the street. I went over and got on them a little bit and one of them gave me a little bit of what the officers heard. We called his mother, and he was just as rude to his mother as he was to us. That’s what we’re dealing with out here in the community. But he was 15, and I couldn’t have snatched him up and taken him to jail because he was a juvenile.”
But Cotton said he has talked with Sheriff Ezell Brown and been told that the Sheriff’s Office is setting up a rapid test procedure for COVID-19 and that if a person tests negative, they will start putting them in jail.
“The Sheriff agrees that he doesn’t want folks to just get away with being disorderly,” Cotton said. “He asked if we’ll pay for our testing, and I said absolutely. It’s about $30 a test.
“They just don’t want to put them in the jail if they test positive. But if they give them a rapid test and they’re negative, they’ll put them on into the jail.”