CATEGORY: Marshall County
CHARGE AGAINST MAYOR LEAVES FOLKS IN SEPARATE CAMPS
By Cynthia M. Jeffries
POTTS CAMP – Thomas M. Stone has lived in Potts Camp all his 81 years and is very proud of his hometown.
“Potts Camp is a lovely community. We have the finest people on earth living here.”
But an incident that occurred last year may have taken some of the shine off the small Marshall County town.
Two weeks ago, Potts Camp Mayor Ernest Cruse, 51 was indicted by a grand jury. He appeared before a Circuit Court judge last Tuesday to hear the formal charge of simple assault on a police officer.
A court date has not been set, but a court date could possibly occur during Marshall County Circuit Court’s May term.
Though the incident is and has been talked about, most residents have reserved their opinions until the court’s ruling.
“We don’t know really enough about the incident to really say anything,” Stone said. “We are sorry it happened.”
If convicted, Cruse could be sentenced to a $1,000 fine and/or 5 years in prison. He would also have to step down from the elected office he has held for six years. In Mississippi, felony offenders are prohibited from holding public office.
Cruse is still serving as the town’s mayor.
“I think all of this is hilarious,” one Potts Camp citizen said. “He may have run unopposed the last time, but I doubt he will the next time election rolls around.”
While taking an afternoon break last week at a local grocery store, Cruse seemed unaffected by the recent charge. He did not want to discuss the incident.
Longtime friend Doyle Baum said, “I don’t think it happened, not the way it’s come out anyway.”
The charge stemmed from an incident that allegedly occurred about 2:35 a.m. Nov. 11 at Cruse’s home. Former Police Chief Greg Hopper has said he went to the house after a Marshall County dispatcher radioed and told him the mayor wanted to accompany him on a disturbance call.
While there, the mayor allegedly hit Hopper in the head with a flashlight.
Exact details of the alleged assault have never been clear.
Shortly after the incident, Hopper was suspended with pay. Hopper, 30, remained on suspension for more than two months until Jan. 24, when he was fired for not complying with the town’s board of alderman’s to submit his medical bills.
Hopper’s firing left Potts Camp without any law enforcement of its own. The Marshall County Sheriff’s department now patrols the small town of about 600 people located in the southeastern corner of the county. The town butts against the Benton County. Almost all of the town’s activity centers around state Highway 178 which runs along the length of the small town which has a couple of gas station/grocery stores and other small town attractions.
Gerald S. Corwin, who moved to his wife’s hometown last April, said in his opinion the town needs a police officer because the traffic situation is out of control. He said he has witnessed people traveling along state Highway 178 at speeds in excess of 70 mph.
“They are literally drag racing through the town now,” said Corwin’s wife, Katherine Williams-Corwin. “There are time when there have been black skid marks on the street.”
Hopper worked for only six weeks with the department before the alleged incident occurred. Prior to Hopper’s being hired, the town had been without a police chief for more than 14 months.
Before his firing, Hopper had been placed on suspension twice by the mayor, but the town’s board overrode both suspensions.
During the four months Hopper received a check from the town of Potts Camp, he was paid out of a COPS FAST grant the town received in 1995. The town received $18,000 for the first year of the grant which over a three-year-period would have totaled $51,000. Cruse said that grant is not in jeopardy because the town has already been approved.
Potts Camp was one of 37 law enforcement agencies in Northeast Mississippi to receive grant money from President Clinton’s crime law, which was to have put 100,000 new officers on the streets of America. and also contained several community relations programs All told, 194 law enforcement agencies in the state were to have received grant money to hire one to three officers.