| Though ill, long-serving Bryan ‘still our sheriff’
Chief deputy responds to plea for help
| Batesville Police Chief Roger Vanlandingham (left) works through a stack of last-minute paperwork in his office earlier this week with administrative assistant Nita Taylor (right). The police chief is leaving his post after 16 years. His tenure ends today.
|By Billy Davis
Batesville Mayor Bobby Baker is leaving city hall this summer after serving seven terms – 29 years – as mayor. He’s not alone in departing.
Police Chief Roger Vanlandingham is also leaving, walking away from the Batesville Police Department alongside the mayor who hired him as police chief 16 years ago.
Vanlandingham began his stint as police chief in October, 1989.
His last day as chief is today.
Baker told The Panolian he will recommend Vanlandingham’s interim replacement at next Tuesday’s city board meeting. The mayor did not say who he would recommend for the job.
Col. Gerald Legge is second in command at the BPD.
After the new Mayor and Board of Aldermen take office July 4, the search for Vanlandingham’s replacement will presumably begin.
When that happens, Vanlandingham, 54, expects to be collecting state retirement after 36 years of law enforcement work. He will also be renovating the old Hwy. 315 grocery store that he owns, formerly known as Dee’s Store. Vanlandingham plans to re-open that store for business in August and spend much of his time there. He won’t rule out a return to law enforcement, however, if the salary can compete with his state retirement package.
"I’ve got good retirement," he said, grinning from behind his bare desk at the downtown police department.
Known for brandishing cowboy boots and a cold stare, Vanlandingham was Batesville’s answer to an apparent need: modernizing the police department after the retirement of Police Chief Troy Carver.
During his interview with city officials, Vanlandingham recalls being peppered with questions about police equipment and training, such as whether the city should furnish sidearms for its police officers.
"When I started, we had officers carrying everything from a 22. revolver to a .44 Magnum," Vanlandingham remembered.
When Vanlandingham was hired, he knew why he had been picked.
Vanlandingham jumped into the police chief’s position after 16 years at Parchman, where he operated the prison’s Emergency Response Team. He also criss-crossed the state with a Parchman K-9 unit, helping local law enforcement track down fugitives.
When Vanlandingham took over the police department, he began with a 14-man department. The city immediately hired five more officers.
Today, the Batesville Police Department numbers 49 employees.
Eighteen months after Vanlandingham began his job for the City of Batesville, he hired a rookie police officer named Raye Hawkins.
"He scared the daylights out of me," said a half-joking Hawkins, who served with the chief for 11 years before being elected district constable.
When Vanlandingham leaves, Hawkins said, he should be remembered for establishing a professional police department that produces well-trained officers.
Vanlandingham demanded "perfection" from officers to protect both themselves and the public they served, said Hawkins, who left the department as a lieutenant.
"He was fair. You knew where you stood with him," said Hawkins. "If you were doing wrong, he told you. If you were doing right, he told you."
As part of the department’s modernization, Vanlandingham ordered officers to keep a video camera in their squad cars and carry an audio tape recorder, which they slipped into a shirt pocket.
On October 18, 1991, Hawkins was carrying a handheld camera when Batesville police officers shot and killed an armed, part-time traffic officer who put a .357 Magnum revolver under Hawkins’ chin.
According to Hawkins’ account of the incident, he yanked the pistol away just as the weapon fired. Other police officers opened fire, killing the assailant in front of family members.
The camera recorded the entire event, Hawkins said, protecting the officers’ jobs and helping calm racial tensions that arose after the shooting.
The use of the camera also saved the city from a pending lawsuit, Vanlandingham acknowledged.
Regarding the training of officers, Vanlandingham said he credits city leaders for their support, including former aldermen Bobby Carlisle and Willie King.
"When we asked for something, we were never turned down by the mayor and board of aldermen," the police chief said.
According to Baker, one of Vanlandingham’s most important accomplishments was establishing a chain of command within the police department.
"That type of structure added stability to the police department, which it needed," Baker said.
Regarding the coming city elections, Vanlandingham said he is troubled by the politics of finding his replacement. While the candidates debate whether to hire from within or begin a search, officers within the department are choosing sides.
"There are career employees who have given their lives to serving the city and whose families depend on them for their livelihood," Vanlandingham said, "and their jobs should not be considered political positions."
Asked how he hopes he’s remembered as police chief, Vanlandingham said, "Fair, hard worker and someone who allowed the staff (to have) family time and a life, and a person who knows he made mistakes along the way."
| Means’ murder has ties to Texas trial
|By Billy Davis
The Panola County Sheriff’s Department is investigating a murder committed Wednesday night that has apparent ties to a Texas money laundering trial.
Sheriff’s investigator Barry Thompson acknowledged Thursday morning that a black male was shot and killed about 10:20 p.m. at a home on Curtis Road.
The victim was apparently Roland Means of Milwaukee, Wis., whose identity was released Thursday by county coroner Gracie Grant Gulledge after she notified family members.
The cause of death is a gunshot wound, Gulledge said, although an autopsy was set to be performed Thursday.
Thompson would not identify Means, however, nor any more details of the crime, citing the ongoing investigation.
The Sulfur Springs News-Telegram was set to report Friday that Means traveled to Panola County from Hopkins County, Texas after he was acquitted in a trial there on Tuesday.
Sulfur Springs is located about 75 miles northeast of Dallas.
Means was one of three men arrested in 2003 for money laundering after a Sulfur Springs police officer found $270,291 in the trunk of their rental car, the daily newspaper reported.
One of those three men was Marece Devon Milton, who testified on behalf of the prosecution.
A Marece D. Milton of 5721 Nash Road, Batesville, is being held for an investigation at the Panola County Detention Center.
Asked about Milton’s arrest, Thompson said he would not speculate and said charges have not been filed against him as of Thursday.
In the trial against Means, the prosecution contended that the money seized at the traffic stop was "dirty" and was connected to drug activity.
During his testimony, Milton testified that Means intended to buy 20 kilograms of cocaine with the money, the News-Telegram reported.
One connection to Panola County is apparently rapper Marcus Dewayne Pollard of Batesville, who was arrested along with Means and Milton.
A Marcus Pollard is listed in the phone book with a Batesville address of 5996 Curtis Road.
In a strange twist to the trial, Pollard’s aunt, Dorothy Pollard of Wisconsin, was arrested and charged with money laundering after testifying in court that she had put the $270,000 in the backpack that was later seized by police.
Before her arrest, Pollard also said the money was collected from "investors" for promotion videos of her nephew.
| "Show & Shine" Car Show
| Ready for Saturday’s first ever Batesville Kiwanis Club "Show and Shine" car show are father and son Ronnie (right) and Brandon Hinton.
Ronnie will be showing his ’37 Chevy street rod, which his fellow rodders have named the "Easter Egg." Brandon will show his 2005 Toyota Tacoma modified production X-Runner and his custom-built Suzuki drag bike.
Nineteen classes are open. Registration begins at 8 a.m. at Batesville Jr. High School. Award presentations begin at 3 p.m.
Proceeds will be used to sponsor the many local service projects of the Kiwanis Club. For additional information, contact Hinton at 609-2406.
| Ward Four has three contenders for seat
|By Billy Davis
Batesville residents in Ward 4 will choose between two Democrats Tuesday, May 3, the day of the party primaries, and later pick an overall winner in the June 7 general election.
Democrats in the race are 16-year incumbent Bobbie Jean Pounders and her opponent, first-time candidate Wayne Thompson. Whoever wins the primary will face another first-time candidate, Michael Harbour, who is running as a Republican.
"My Christian faith won’t allow me to run as a Democrat. There are some radical movements in the Democratic Party," said Harbour, explaining his choice to run as a Republican.
Harbour, 30, is one of four Republicans seeking office in Batesville. He originally qualified to run for mayor, pitting him against Republican Richard Corson, but pulled out to run for alderman.
Ward 4 lies in the middle of downtown Batesville, where it takes in the Downtown Square, the Church Street area, Johnson subdivision, and homes along both sides of Panola Avenue.
Ward 4 also includes the James Street area farther north and the Pine Street area to the east. In west Batesville, it splits Van Voris with Ward 2, taking in the southern portion.
Pounders, 69, lives in the downtown area at 110 Court Street.
Harbour lives at 114 Johnson Street.
Thompson, 34, lives at 111 Tubbs Road.
Regarding important campaign issues, both Thompson and Harbour say more streets should be paved, the salaries for police officers and firefighters should be increased, and city leaders should do a better job of finding and recruiting more businesses and industries to the city.
According to Harbour, the city should do more to control flooding and improve drainage in the Johnson subdivision area where he lives.
"Johnson (subdivision) has a lot of flooding problems, and nothing’s been done about it," Harbour said. "It was really evident during that bad storm last week."
The county’s unemployment rate is a major concern for Thompson, he said, citing the double-digit numbers that plague Panola County.
"It’s just unacceptable to have our unemployment above 10 percent when other counties around us are way below that," said Thompson, who would stress workforce development if elected to the alderman’s seat.
According to Pounders, however, her opponents are following a familiar strategy: making promises and criticizing the incumbents when they haven’t had to make hard choices for the city.
"I’ve got wonderful ideas in my mind that I would like to see accomplished, but it’s not that easy to do that," Pounders said. "If (my opponents) could see the budget, it would be a wake-up call."
Pounders acknowledges that the "more" message from the non-incumbent candidates – more street paving, more pay for police – puts incumbent aldermen on the defensive as they explain where taxpayers’ money has been spent during the current term.
However, Pounders turns that message around, asking how the non-incumbents candidates plan to pay for their many ideas and suggestions.
"I think building and providing a youth center is a nice idea, but how do you plan to pay for it?" Pounders asked, citing the idea being pushed by mayoral candidate Jerry Autrey.
Pounders is known for her support of the Downtown Square. Most recently she pushed for – and got – an overlay of the streets and improvement work to the railroad crossings.
She also sought and brought the Main Street Program to Batesville, later supporting the preservation organization through city funding and her volunteer service as president.
Her support for the Square has come with a price, she agrees, with opponents taking aim at the new Downtown Park and planned overlay.
"The overlay got bumped twice for other projects, and it’s badly needed and past time to do it," Pounders said
Regarding the Downtown Park, Pounders said anyone who complains about its construction is uninformed.
"It was built at no cost to the taxpayers," Pounders said. "It was built through a state grant, which I personally got, and other people bought the benches and the bricks, and sponsored the pavilion and the water fountain."
According to Thompson, he would push for increased pay for Batesville police officers if elected alderman.
In Batesville, gross pay for a non-certified police officer is $1,748.68 a month, or about $10.90 an hour. It increases to $1,878.12 when the officer graduates from the police academy.
Starting pay for BPD dispatchers and secretaries is about $1,500 a month, or about $9.38 an hour.
A salesman for Frito-Lay, Thompson said a Batesville police officer recently asked him about the company’s pay and benefits after spotting a newspaper advertisement for a delivery driver.
"The officer told me they’ve lost seven patrolmen to Oxford and DeSoto County," Thompson said. "He said Batesville patrolmen clear $700 every two weeks, and the other officers clear twice that."
Pounders said she, too, would like to increase pay for police officers and other city employees. Knowing the police salaries are low, the city allows officers to work part-time jobs to make more income, she noted.
Asked if she would make a police pay raise a priority if re-elected, Pounders said the budgeted funds would be spread equally among the city’s many priorities.
| Political Forum will take place Tuesday
|By Billy Davis
With less than three weeks remaining before Batesville’s elections kick off with a May 3 primary, a number of issues are being voiced by voters and kicked around by the candidates.
Among those issues are: street overlaying for the Downtown Square, the pending sale of Tri-Lakes Medical Center, the hiring of a new police chief, flooding and drainage, the building of a youth center, new sidewalks for Martin Luther King Drive, and the operation and expense of the new Batesville Civic Center.
Batesville candidates for mayor, alderman-at-large, and ward alderman cover those topics – and more – in "The Candidates Speak," a special 12-page publication included in this issue of The Panolian.
The publication of "The Candidates Speak" will be followed by a town-hall forum set for next week that will also feature the Batesville candidates.
The Batesville Town-hall Forum is set for 6:30 p.m. Tuesday, April 19 at the TVEPA auditorium in Batesville.
The Forum is sponsored by The Panolian.
"This will be a cordial town-hall forum to allow candidates to voice their views and opinions. This is not a back-and-forth debate," said The Panolian publisher John Howell Sr., who will moderate the event.
Voters are encouraged to attend the Forum, where they can meet and greet the candidates, and hear them speak about the city’s issues.
The Batesville Town-hall Forum will feature a 15-minute exchange for each ward alderman race and the alderman-at-large race. A 20-minute exchange with the city’s mayoral candidates will conclude the event.
The forum will begin at 6:30 p.m. with the Ward 1 candidates seated and ready to begin.
Questions posed to the alderman candidates will be prepared by The Panolian editorial staff. Those questions be drawn at random from a box by the event moderator, John Howell Sr., publisher of The Panolian.
Questions for the mayoral candidates will come from a list prepared by The Panolian staff.