Hero Officer

Published 12:00 am Friday, February 19, 2010

Police chief: hero officer had legal right to act outside town

By Billy Davis

The Crenshaw police officer who shot and killed his ambusher, and likely saved two lives by doing so, was within his rights to act outside the city limits, according to the town’s police chief.

“It’s absolutely a non-issue. There’s no basis to worry about it,” Chief Paul Mills said of Sean Shelton’s actions on February 7, at a home on Pollan Road.

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Law enforcement agencies honor boundaries, such as municipal limits and county lines, but are not bound by them, said Mills.

Pollan Road resident Joyce Betts, who had called Shelton to search her house, lives 2.8 miles from Crenshaw’s municipal boundary at Highway 310.

Inside Betts’ home, Shelton was ambushed and shot twice by Lawrence D. Richardson. Shelton returned fire, shooting as many as a dozen times at Richardson in the darkened home. Richardson died on the scene.

The police officer is now at home after being released from The MED. He is recovering slowly from a wound to his abdomen and a wound to his face.  

Authorities have said Richardson, after disabling the lights, had prepared the home to capture Betts and torture her on a coffee table. The macabre scene was dubbed a “torture table” by Memphis media.

Mills, reached this week at the police department, was responding to a reporter’s question. He was asked if Shelton would qualify for Workman’s Compensation since he was injured outside Crenshaw.

Shelton was not covered by medical insurance when he was wounded but is eligible for Workman’s Compensation, officials have said.

Mayor Oscar Barlow, asked about jurisdiction, said only that it’s “common practice” for municipalities to cooperate with the Panola County Sheriff’s Department.

Crenshaw benefits from frequent assistance by sheriff’s deputies, though Shelton did not call for deputies’ assistance when he went to Betts’ home. A second Crenshaw police officer responded to the home when the wounded officer radioed that he was shot.

Mills described flexible rules for law enforcement officials and “compacts” made among agencies. He described cooperation among authorities on the Gulf Coast, after Hurricane Katrina, as an example.

In Crenshaw, police officers routinely respond to calls at an apartment complex in Quitman County that is outside the city limits, according to Mills.

About two-thirds of the little town is located in Panola County. The remaining one-third is located in Quitman.

Mills also bemoaned public speculation about Shelton’s legal boundaries. Some of the public may be unaware that sworn law enforcement officers can uphold the law regardless of their location, he said.

“If I’m in Oxford in a bank that’s being robbed, I’m still a sworn police officer,” Mills said.

Mills told The Panolian he expects Shelton could take six months to physically recover from the gunshot wounds and surgery.

Mills also commented that some media reports misreported that Shelton had been slightly wounded in his face. The police chief disclosed, for the first time, that the officer had been shot directly in the face when he entered the home.

“He was shot in the face point blank,” the police chief said. “The shot broke his jaw, which is now wired shut.”

A bank account has been set up at First Security Bank branches to help Shelton with medical and other expenses.

Mills said the police department is also applying for help from a benevolent fund operated by the state attorney general’s office.

The disability fund helps law enforcement officers and firefighters injured in the line of duty.