By Robbie Ward
TUPELO – State elected leaders and government attorneys in Jackson intend to learn today if state law prohibits the city of Tupelo from providing additional financial compensation related to two city police officers shot after a December bank robbery, resulting in a death and a serious injury.
State Rep. Steve Holland of Plantersville said late Tuesday that he has advised legal staff to determine if any state law prevents Tupelo city leaders from contributing more support to meet expenses beyond worker’s compensation related to the shootings. He also said staff with Attorney General Jim Hood’s office also have begun assisting.
Tupelo Police Sgt. Gale Stauffer, 38, and patrol officer Joseph Maher, 27, were ambushed and shot on Dec. 23 by a bank robber stuck in traffic as a train passed at Crosstown. Stauffer died, and Maher spent eight days hospitalized for a gunshot wound to his head. He remains on leave as he recovers.
Holland said he and others in state government will work with Tupelo Mayor Jason Shelton and other city officials to determine the most appropriate action to help Stauffer’s family and Maher and his family.
“We’ve got to get all of their minds together,” said Holland. “If it does take a bill, they’re going to get it.”
Currently, the city’s actions to assist the officers financially beyond worker’s compensation and seeking outside support is limited to allowing city employees to donate leave time to Maher.
“I think it gives a good statement,” said David Hamilton, TPD’s chaplain.
The Office of the Attorney General has a Law Enforcement Officers and Fire Fighters Disability Benefits Trust Fund that can pay 34 percent of Maher’s pay while recovering. Along with paying medical expenses and other costs, worker’s compensation will pay two-thirds of the officer’s salary until he returns.
However, Shelton and City Council members believe the city should offer more to assist Stauffer’s widow and Maher.
Shelton, Tupelo city attorney Ben Logan and other city staff combed through state statues Tuesday and found concern related to the city’s ability provide funds.
“Municipalities are prohibited from giving gifts to any individuals,” Shelton said. “Unfortunately, even though the event was as tragic as it was, the city is prohibited from paying for officer Maher or any other officer anything.”
Holland said he anticipates an answer today from state legal authorities.
“Basically, it would be nice if the city could through some other means make sure neither family has any type of financial worries as they go through everything else,” Shelton said. “The city could provide a lump-sum payment now until the other benefits begin the officers will receive.”
Councilman Markel Whittington of Ward 1 said the city contributing to bank accounts set up to assist families might be the right thing to do.
“If the state will allow us to do something over and beyond what we’re doing, I’d be in favor of it,” he said.
Whittington said the council should look into future policies related to other city employees injured or killed in the line of duty.
“Anytime we put our employees in harm’s way, we need to compensate anytime we have a tragedy,” he said.