Cops from Columbus in hot seat over VNMP disturbance

Published 12:00 am Thursday, May 7, 2009

Four Columbus police officers face possible disciplinary action after a disturbance in Vicksburg National Military Park.

At about 4 p.m. Tuesday, loud music was reported coming from a police cruiser in the park near Sherman Circle. Witnesses said the vehicle’s occupants were using flashers atop the car to deter visitors from approaching it.

Columbus Police Chief Joseph St. John confirmed those details, adding he was contacted by “very concerned” supervising park rangers concerning the incident. He declined to identify the four officers, citing the continuing inquiry. In April, the Columbus City Council approved the training trip, including a vehicle and expenses for Cpl. Spence Wallingford and officers Wade Beard, Heath Beard and Robert Walker.

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“There will be our own internal investigation,” St. John said.

Rosie Wince, chief of administration for the federal preserve, said charges were not likely, but an incident report was pending. Park rangers are employees of the National Park Service and have the authority to enforce federal and state statutes and city ordinances in the park.

The four officers were in Vicksburg for a three-day conference of S.T.O.R.M., or Sobriety Trained Officers Representing Mississippi, an organization that helps more than 200 agencies in the state share information on DUI detection and apprehension.

An apology to the supervising park ranger and to the citizens of Vicksburg was to be issued following the officers’ departure from the conference, organization chairman Michael D. Vick said.

The organization acknowledged VNMP’s status as solemn, hallowed ground.

“S.T.O.R.M. does not condone or tolerate any type of disrespectful behavior by its members,” Vick said. “Whether any action will be taken will be at the discretion of the individual agencies and their boards.”

While not privy to information gathered by park rangers, Vick said alcohol was not a factor in the incident.


Contact Danny Barrett Jr. at