Officer says training lacking before possible arrest of former co-worker

Published 12:00 am Thursday, June 12, 2003

[6/13/03]A Vicksburg Police officer who was handed a five-day suspension for not arresting a former co-worker who later was convicted of DUI says he didn’t know how to make the arrest and should not be held to the same standard as his supervisor.

Officer Gevon Smith was suspended after a wreck on Jan. 8 when the driver of a pickup that struck two parked vehicles admitted to taking a prescription pain medication earlier and appeared to be impaired, according to other officers at the scene. Members of the Vicksburg Civil Service Commission heard Smith’s appeal of the suspension Wednesday and said they will issue a decision in 10 days.

Smith, who has been with the department for five years and had worked as a police officer at the state Capitol for three years, said he did not arrest the driver, former Vicksburg Police Officer Andy Andress, because there was not enough evidence and because he did not have the training to make that arrest.

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“I’ve never done a case with someone suspected of being under the influence of drugs,” Smith said.

Local attorney David Sessums, representing Smith at the Civil Service hearing, said the officer also should not have been given a harsher punishment than his supervisor, who was also at the scene.

Smith’s supervisor, Sgt. Jackie Johnson, was given a three-day suspension for failing to order Smith to make the arrest, but has not appealed that disciplinary action.

“We feel that officer Smith has been charged and suspended for doing the exact same thing as his superior officer did,” Sessums said.

Smith testified before the commission that he called for his supervisor because he knew Andress and suspected he was under the influence of medication. Johnson also called for Officer Bobby Jones, with the traffic division, to assist.

“He was so out of it he could hardly walk. He could barely put his cigarette in his mouth,” Jones said.

Jones, who was not suspended, did not arrest Andress that day, but said it was obvious that Andress was impaired from the medication. Days later, Jones signed an affidavit and arrested Andress who was subsequently convicted in Municipal Court.

“If I had been in charge of the scene, I would have arrested him,” Jones said.

Police Chief Tommy Moffett defended Jones’ action not to arrest Andress that day and said that Jones provided Smith with the information needed to make the arrest.

Moffett also said that Smith was trained in DUI arrests and should have made the arrest without Jones’ or Johnson’s assistance.

“It doesn’t matter if it was alcohol, drugs or water. If he was impaired, then it was officer Smith’s duty to take the appropriate action,” Moffett said.

Evidence was presented during an administrative hearing before the Civil Service Commission, which will decide if the disciplinary action against Smith was taken for political or religious purpose and if it was in good faith and for cause.

The three-member panel can uphold the suspension, reverse it or modify the disciplinary action taken by the city.