By Emily Le Coz/NEMS Daily Journal
TUPELO – Momentum for a Lee County noise ordinance could die after a judge Thursday issued five guilty verdicts to a perpetually loud neighbor.
Phil Raven of County Road 251 was given a one-year suspended jail sentence and fined more than $1,500 for a series of disturbances he created between April 2010 to October 2011, according to Lee County Prosecutor James Moore.
A feud between Raven and his neighbor, Jackie Blackburn, festered for years over Raven’s excessive noise from music and shouting. Another neighbor, Robert Wood, also complained.
But previous disturbance charges against Raven were dismissed, which prompted a high-profile attempt to get a stricter noise ordinance passed in Lee County. The county lacks its own ordinance against excessive noise and relies solely on the state statute. It requires people to file affidavits against alleged offenders and take them to court.
Blackburn argued that the system places too much burden on the victim and did little to deter the noise maker.
A proposed ordinance floated among Lee County supervisors would have capped allowable noise decibels and required deputies to enforce it. But Sheriff Jim Johnson strongly opposed it. Supervisors ultimately scrapped that version and have been exploring a new one.
This week’s decision by Justice Court Judge John Hoyt Sheffield, though, could come as a turning point in the debate.
“I think this sets a precedent for other cases that there is a law in place and it works,” said District 2 Supervisor Bobby Smith, who represents both neighbors and attended the three-hour trial.
“I still think we need to look at it,” Smith added, “but … it gives us some breathing room now.”
Board of Supervisors President Phil Morgan also said the outcome of the case proves the existing law works and that additional rules might not be necessary.
That comes as a relief to Johnson, who feared a noise ordinance would add extra work for his deputies and be nearly impossible to fairly enforce.
“The only thing an ordinance is going to do is duplicate what we’ve got,” he said. “There are just certain steps you’ve got to go through, and it’s proven now to work. Hopefully it ends.”
In addition to his suspended jail sentence and fine, Raven was given one year’s probation and must meet with a probation officer monthly, Moore said.