Four THS teens accused in Buffalo Park vandalism

By Emily Le Coz, JB Clark, Chris Kieffer and Carlie Kollath Wells/NEMS Daily Journal



UPDATE: Bond set for one accused in Buffalo Park vandalism

By JB Clark, NEMS Daily Journal

TUPELO – A $500 bond was set for the only of age teen charged in the Buffalo Park vandalism.

Tate Johnson had his bond set late Thursday afternoon and has since bonded out of the Lee County Adult Jail.

Johnson is the only teen charged in the vandalism over 18 years old. The other three teens arrested in conjunction with the vandalism have not had their names released because it is the Tupelo Police Department’s policy not to release juveniles’ names.

All four were charged with felony malicious mischief.

The first two juveniles arrested went before a juvenile court judge early Thursday afternoon. A third juvenile was arrested later that day.

The four allegedly broke into the Tupelo Buffalo Park early Tuesday and spray-painted obscenities all over the property. Park employees found fences broken and video of young men trying to spray-paint Kiki the lion.

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From today’s NEMS Daily Journal …

Four THS teens accused in Buffalo Park vandalism

TUPELO – Teenagers accused of vandalizing the Tupelo Buffalo Park & Zoo early Tuesday could face criminal consequences.
At least four Tupelo High School seniors are accused of crashing through the park’s electric perimeter fence, spray-painting “2013” and other graffiti on property and at least two animals, and putting themselves at risk of being trampled or gored by some of the roaming buffalo, giraffe and yak.
The incident reportedly occurred shortly after a late-night gathering of several dozen seniors hailing the start of the school year, which began Tuesday, according to the mother of a teen who attended the party but wasn’t involved in the vandalism.
Tupelo Police on Wednesday arrested three males and charged them with felony malicious mischief. All were brought in by their parents, said Police Capt. Rusty Haynes. A fourth was arrested Thursday at school on the same charges.
All but one are juveniles, and police won’t release their names. The Daily Journal also does not print the names of minors charged in crimes unless they are charged as an adult.
Tate Johnson, 18, of Meadow Ridge Drive, is charged as an adult. As of late Thursday, Johnson remained at the Lee County jail awaiting a bond hearing set for today.
Two of the minors faced a hearing at juvenile court Tuesday, but their status is unknown, Haynes said. The other minor has a hearing set for today.
“We’re satisfied that this is it, though more arrests could arise,” Haynes said, adding that despite the strong charges, “this thing will probably shake out where the park is fully reimbursed for their losses.”
State law defines felony malicious mischief as the act of maliciously or mischievously destroying, disfiguring or injuring property valued at more than $500. If the value is less than that, it’s considered a misdemeanor.
Conviction on the felony charge carries a possible $10,000 fine and up to five years in state custody, as well as full restitution to the property owner.
Park officials discovered the damage during morning rounds Tuesday and have been working to clean the graffiti and repair damaged property ever since. They announced a $1,000 reward for information leading to the suspects’ arrest, but it’s unclear whether anyone will receive it because tipsters remained anonymous, said park Manager Lindsay Bullock.
Sheila Franklin, whose husband owns the park, said Thursday she’s pleased with the arrests but has mixed emotions about the fact high school seniors are accused of involvement.
“I have two emotions,” Franklin said. “One is that it’s just a bad senior prank gone wrong. The other is that they should be held accountable.
“How would you feel if they had come on your property and done this to you?”
Numerous people weighed in online at DJournal.com, which accumulated at least 70 comments by Thursday evening. Most harshly criticized the teens, as well as their parents for what they deemed a lack of supervision and discipline.
But Russ Polsgrove, who leads the youth group at The Orchard United Methodist Church, knows two of the accused and said they’re respectful young men who never caused problems.
Johnson has been a member of Polsgrove’s youth group for six years.
“When I heard, I was stunned because it is completely out of character for him. My experience with Tate is he’s always been respectful and even been a leader in our ministry,” Polsgrove said. “He’s a guy we’ve always been proud of.”
Though Polsgrove also spoke highly of the other teen, the Daily Journal cannot name him because of his age.
Tupelo Public School District officials said they can’t comment on what actions will be taken against the students because of school privacy law.
“Our policy is based on Mississippi code and is similar to what other districts do for off-campus behavior,” said TPSD Superintendent Gearl Loden. “When a student is charged with a felony, we’ll look at the charges and see how our policy aligns to those charges.”
emily.lecoz@journalinc.comcarlie.wells@journalinc.comjb.clark@journalinc.comchris.kieffer@journalinc.com