Slain sheriff’s brother questions monument disappearance

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courtesy In this undated photo, Larry Presley stands with his granddaughter in front of the monument honoring his brother, former Lee County Sheriff Harold Ray Presley, and other law enforcement officers killed in the line of duty. The monument was destroyed in January 2008.

courtesy
In this undated photo, Larry Presley stands with his granddaughter in front of the monument honoring his brother, former Lee County Sheriff Harold Ray Presley, and other law enforcement officers killed in the line of duty. The monument was destroyed in January 2008.

TUPELO – A suspected kidnapper shot Lee County Sheriff Harold Ray Presley six times 13 years ago today, and a memorial was put up in his honor.

Larry Presley thinks about his slain brother daily but has spent most of this year with something else on his mind – the disappearance of the 7,766-pound memorial dedicated near the Lee County Jail in August 2002.

The 8-foot-tall, 11-foot-wide granite memorial disappeared in January 2008 amid circumstances Presley still finds questionable. After Tupelo Police Officer Gale Stauffer died in December from a bank robber’s gunshot, Presley’s questions intensified about his brother’s memorial, funded by more $19,000 in donations. It listed names of six other lawmen killed in the line of duty and had space for more.

Law enforcement acquaintances told Presley soon after the monument disappeared that strong winds destroyed it during a night of severe weather that also damaged trees throughout the county.

“It was a big monument and put up by people qualified to install it,” Presley said last week.

After Harold Ray Presley’s death, Larry Presley won election to serve as Lee County sheriff four months later. He chose not to retain the interim sheriff, Jim Johnson, who soundly defeated him nearly two years later and remains in the elected office.

Some of Harold Ray Presley’s family still harbor anger and frustration toward Johnson.

On Jan. 8, Larry Presley delivered a letter to the Lee County Supervisors requesting a formal investigation of the monument’s disappearance. The letter stated the owner of Georgia-based Everlasting Granite Memorial Company said strong wind destroying the memorial was “not possible.”

While Larry Presley wants the monument replaced, something Johnson said he hopes will happen when the adult jail is expanded or relocated, state law prohibits using county resources to replace the monument, which wasn’t insured.

Near the flagpole located near the jail, markings still exist where the monument once stood tall. Rumors have swirled about how the monument disappeared stories like Johnson using a backhoe to destroy it. Other rumors include the sheriff using explosives.

Dennis Truax, head of Mississippi State University’s department of civil and environmental engineering, said the cause may be less sinister. He reviewed Saturday a photo taken a few years after memorial was erected.

Truax concluded wind, indeed, could be the culprit based on possible wind rotation the night of the incident. The photo and monument’s invoice indicate the tall structure’s thin width, making it vulnerable to severe weather.

“As strange as that might sound, actually, yes,” Truax said. “Within the limits of what I know, it’s certainly conceivable this was the result of a monument constructed by people with a lot of experience but did not do the engineering calculations for something like this.”

As for Johnson, he said he’ll never forget the tragic day in 2001 when a good man was murdered. He also said Larry Presley has never asked him about what happened to the memorial and knows some people always will believe he’s responsible.

“I know for a fact that I didn’t have anything to do with the destruction of it,” Johnson said. “What other people say is the right of being an American and having freedom of speech.”

robbie.ward@journalinc.com

  • harryblah

    Harold ray wasn’t the greatest sheriff. he was part of the good old boy network, letting certain people get by with things like what Johnson does now. Harold’s own son had major drug issues and if he made sure that junkie was locked up maybe he wouldn’t have killed that woman, whose Harold old lady later blamed for her own death. then his other 2 kids involved in drugs and assaults thinking their name would get them out of the trouble. Harold’s dead only because he didn’t wear his vest like he should’ve been doing. I don’t get why all these cops deserve so much special recognition knowing the job they undertake, getting shot, getting attacked, being stupid in choosing to chase a fleeing car when winds up in their death. they’re given too much credit for doing a job no one asked them to do.

    • guest

      Harold Ray was dead when his son ran into the lady. Your expectations of cops seem to be rather high. Even if the guy would have been wearing a vest that night as I understand the medical reports he still would have died. Sometimes you have to throw caution into the wind and risk your own life and come across to some as “stupid” when people are being “stupid” to try and save innocent people. There are a lot of veterans and cops and firemen that have done “stupid” things. God bless America.

      • harryblah

        yes I know ray was dead when his son killed that woman. but while alive, ray knew his boy was a junkie and did nothing to get him locked up long term. maybe if that happened, he would’ve killed himself years before.

    • guest

      “The world will not be destroyed by those who do evil, but by those who watch them without doing anything” ALBERT EINSTEIN

      “A hero is ANY PERSON REALLY INTENT on making this a better place for all people” MARY ANGELOU

  • guest

    This is for harryblah. That’s a sad and pitiful commentary. If people hadn’t volunteered on their own this would not be a country that we are celebrating the birth of this weekend. No one is perfect as it seems you expect them to be. Our military is volunteer. Our public service (medical, police, fire) is volunteer. You are right, no one asked these people to do what they do. I happen to be one of the majority that are thankful these men and women have the fortitude and courage and sense of duty to serve us. Not just the people who care, but ALL of us. Thank you to all of you that serve the public on this great week end.

    • harryblah

      our military get paid, so they aren’t volunteers. do u honestly think an army man would sit in a bomb infested desert for 18 months for free? this country is a mess and those who came here from England had the “to hell with this” attitude. that’s not volunteering.