By Emily Le Coz/NEMS Daily Journal
TUPELO – Robert Hall’s return to the Tupelo Police Department comes as a “slap in the face” to the mother of a hit-and-run victim struck by a driver Hall later released from jail.
Michelle White said she’s shocked and angry that the city rehired Hall after the pain her family experienced.
“I went through hell with this,” White said, “and I can’t believe they let this man back into office.”
When contacted by the Daily Journal about White’s comments, Police Chief Tony Carleton said he hadn’t heard from her and encouraged her to call if she wants to know more about his decision to rehire Hall.
In a Monday press conference announcing the hiring, and March 29 start date, Carleton said he had reviewed the incident that led to Hall’s resignation “and I do not find that it outweighs the benefits he brings to our force when compared to the otherwise outstanding career he had forged.”
White’s son, John McCain, was bicycling along the McCullough Boulevard median on May 28, 2006, when a drunken driver struck him and fled the scene.
McCain, then 16, suffered a concussion, injury to his vertebrae and a gaping wound to the right arm.
Officers later found and arrested the motorist, Jamison Shells. But Hall, who knew Shells’ family, ordered his release from jail that night.
That move led to Hall’s demotion, an attorney general’s investigation and felony charges filed against him. On March 2, 2007, Hall pleaded guilty to two lesser misdemeanor charges – obstruction of justice and accessory after the fact.
And he resigned from the police force after an otherwise stellar 20-year career there.
He has since worked for the Community Development Foundation and Toyota.
On Monday, Carleton announced Hall will return March 29 as deputy chief, the same job he held at the time of the accident. In his statement to the media, Carleton said Hall “brings a wealth of knowledge, a decorated career and a passion for law enforcement to our team.”
But McCain, now 19, disagrees. Tall and slender with a slight but constant tremble from neurological damage suffered in the wreck, McCain said he can’t trust Hall.
“What’s to say he won’t do it again?” McCain said. “I just don’t think he should be held in a position of trust.”
As deputy chief, Hall will be second in command of a nearly 130-member department. He’ll have the authority to make top-level decisions, give orders and reverse orders.
The mayor and most City Council members support Hall’s return, with some saying it’s the best way to bury the past and move Tupelo forward.
For White and her son, though, it only unearths old wounds.
“We were trying to move on with our lives, but this drags it all up again,” said a visibly shaken White. “You’d think after all these years, I wouldn’t cry over it any more. But I still cry.”
Since the accident, McCain has regained most of the feeling in his right arm and hand but cannot feel his little finger and a portion of his arm. That injury, along with the neurological damage, kept him from pursuing his dream in the Army. Instead, he’ll enroll in college.
Shells, meanwhile, served two years of a 15-year reduced prison term after pleading guilty to DUI maiming and leaving the scene. He’s now free under an earned-release supervision program and will be eligible for full release in May.
He still owes $80,000 in restitution to McCain and his mother for medical bills they accumulated after the wreck.
White said she doubts she’ll ever see it.
“We have $80,000 worth of medical bills and it’s like (Hall) got a promotion,” White said. “It’s a slap in the face.”
Contact Emily Le Coz at (662) 678-1588 or firstname.lastname@example.org.