Child finds refuge in vacant precinct

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, May 15, 2002

[05/15/02]A formerly 24-hour-a-day police precinct building, left unlocked and vacant Friday night, was used as a refuge for more than eight hours by a severely beaten 13-year-old boy, and the county prosecutor has asked the police chief to investigate what happened and why.

The Douglas Park Precinct, 2501 Halls Ferry Road in Marcus Bottom, was unlocked and vacant but lighted inside and out about 10 p.m. Friday, when the boy arrived there with injuries from being beaten in a nearby home with an extension cord, County Prosecutor Johnny Price wrote in a Tuesday letter to Police Chief Tommy Moffett. The child went inside and slept overnight on a bathroom floor, Price wrote.

About 6:45 the next morning a police officer arriving for work found the boy and took him to the Vicksburg Police Department, 820 Veto St., about five blocks away, the officer said. From there the child was placed in custody of the Department of Human Services, where he remained Tuesday, Price wrote.

“If (the precinct) is open to the public, why was it not manned that night?” Price wrote. “If it is not open to the public, why wasn’t it locked and the lights off, and who is responsible?”

The building’s use as a 24-hour-a-day police precinct was discontinued months before Moffett’s taking office Oct. 3, the chief said. It had been manned around the clock beginning in May 2000.

The building is now used as office space for police and is normally locked at night, Moffett said.

“It was inadvertently left open,” Moffett said. “And it’s fortunate that it was left open so (the child) could find refuge,” he said.

Police arrested family members of the child, charging one with neglect, a misdemeanor, and a second with felony child abuse, Moffett said.

“It was around 8 p.m. Saturday night before a parent even called police” to report the child, missing since he fled about 10 p.m. Friday, Moffett said, adding the delay in calling police led to the child’s mother’s arrest, for neglect. Another family member was arrested and charged with the actual beating, he said.

Shortly before the police officer arrived Saturday morning, a second “citizen stopped in the precinct for the purpose of checking on a driver’s tag,” Price also wrote.

“I also assumed that the precinct was open (to the public),” Price wrote later, also citing the cars often parked outside the precinct as further indication that the building was manned and in active use.

Officers at the precinct Thursday said they use the building at times during their shifts to do paperwork, and that when the building is manned it is usually by not more than one or two officers at a time. The last person out is supposed to lock the building, an officer said.

Several officers in the patrol division, possibly including some former officers, and non-police-officer supervisors of community service workers have keys to the building, an officer said.

A device outside the front door of the building allows people on foot to alert E-911 without going inside the building, an officer said.

“I know the building was open for a period of nine hours,” Price said. “Patrolmen were going by there, and nobody obviously stopped to check. Whoever’s supposed to lock it needs to lock it.”

The city bought the building for $60,000 in May 1999. It had been Tri-County Health Clinic and, previously, a convenience store.

In October 1999 a bid for bullet-resistant glass for the precinct’s window and door was accepted for $10,595.

The precinct was to be part of a decentralization plan, begun during the Robert Walker administration, under which multiple precinct buildings were proposed, including ones in Kings and south Vicksburg.