City of Jackson releases some documents requested by newspaper

JACKSON – The city of Jackson has released some of the public records requested by The Clarion-Ledger and the newspaper says Jackson Mayor Frank Melton on Monday promised to honor other outstanding records requests.

The newspaper had asked the city to produce documents granting permission for the mayor and his two bodyguards, police detectives Marcus Wright and Michael Recio, to board commercial flights out of the Jackson airport with their firearms. The U.S. Transportation Security Administration requires such letters, signed by the chief of police, before law enforcement officers attempt to bring their guns aboard an airplane.

The city initially denied the paper’s requests. Jackson Police Chief Shirlene Anderson had said the letters contained “sensitive security information” and “would endanger the life or safety of a public official or law enforcement personnel.”

The city also often missed its 14-day deadline for responding to records requests, which prompted a lawsuit by the Clarion-Ledger. Melton agreed to settle the lawsuit out of court.

Melton released a letter Monday he said he used for his bodyguards to take guns aboard a commercial aircraft. The mayor said threats against his life are so serious that he cannot afford to be without armed protection – even during an airplane flight.

The letter was signed by Anderson and addressed to Southwest Airlines’ security division. It did not state Melton would be flying armed, but the mayor said letters for earlier flights did.

In January, the U.S. Transportation Security Administration asked Melton to no longer attempt to carry guns aboard commercial flights. The letter, written to Southwest for a May 16 flight from Houston to Los Angeles and a return flight two days later, advised the airline that Wright and Recio would be carrying their service weapons aboard.

The letter said nothing about threats against the mayor and included no information about his security procedures. While federal regulations require that such letters confirm the need to travel armed, the letter only stated that Melton was traveling on business.

Marilee McInnis, spokeswoman for Southwest, said the airlines procedures conform to federal regulations and that customers attempting to fly armed are required to prove their identity and justify their need to fly armed.

McInnis said she did not know details about that flight or why a reason is not stated in the letter.

Melton said his efforts to curb crime in Jackson have put him in danger. “I’m not allowed (by Anderson) to leave my property without Michael or Marcus with me,” he said.

Melton said he receives regular threats against him and his family from drug dealers, street gang leaders and other criminals. However, he said no one accused of making those kinds of threats has ever been charged.

Leonard Van Slyke, an attorney for The Clarion-Ledger, said Melton’s change of heart is a positive step.

“We seem to be obtaining the records,” he said. “While we haven’t received them all, I remain hopeful and indeed confident that the mayor is going to fully comply with the agreement previously made.”

Melton said he decided to release Anderson’s letter to put the records controversy behind him.

Among the requests still pending are for information regarding the pay and overtime of his security detail, other personnel data and an inventory of police department equipment.