3 On Your Side Investigates: Peril in Pike County
PIKE COUNTY, Miss. (WLBT) - In Pike County, 2022 was dotted with a rash of crimes, violent and otherwise.
Almost every month there were shootings, burglaries, drug trafficking, prostitution and more. According to the State of Mississippi’s crime statistics, crime in Pike County spiked more than 66% in 2022 over the previous year.
In February 2022, a 6-year-old boy, Oterrious Marks, was killed in a drive-by shooting and four others were wounded.
A peaceful Sunday evening in a McComb park on the corner of Minnesota Avenue and 6th was shattered by senseless crime. Taken into custody for the violence: four teenagers.
The same month, Dr. William Tucker, the Vice President of Southwest Community College, was found dead by his wife in his McComb home. He had been murdered.
Sheriff James Brumfield said, “Still no arrests at this time. We’re still working diligently on that murder, obviously. And we’re putting a lot of resources to it. There’s five other murders out there too that are unsolved, also.”
And the crime wave has spilled over into 2023.
In March, a Pike County man was arrested and charged with attempted murder after deputies say he shot a man driving a car and, in April, six juveniles were arrested, facing multiple charges after vandalizing a state park, causing damage estimated at more than $10,000 - just to name a couple of recent incidents.
“I’ve never seen anything like it in my 14 years. I’ve talked to past coroners and they’ve never seen anything like it,” said Pike Coroner Bryant “Wally” Jones.
Coroner Jones tells 3 On Your Side that in 2022, there were 22 gun related deaths, two hit-and-run deaths and approximately 28 overdoses, with more pending.
So what’s driving this dramatic hike in crime here? All of the law enforcement officers and agencies we talked with pointed to two factors: drugs and gangs.
Sheriff Brumfield said, “There’s a lot of drug activity. Obviously, abuse of drugs, selling drugs, young people. 15 to 18-year-olds in these gangs.”
Coroner Jones said, “And I think a major, major player in the crime is our gangs, drugs, and our gun violence.”
We asked Pike County Chief Deputy Brad Bellipanni if he thinks gang activity is responsible. Bellipanni said, “We believe it is, yeah. Weapons is another one; the sale of illegally obtained pistols and rifles.”
It’s a belief shared by McComb Interim Police Chief Delre Smith. By virtue of being the largest metropolitan area in Pike County, a significant number of crime statistics come from this city.
“Absolutely,” said Smith.
Smith continued, “The gang problem has expanded nationally. In fact, what has happened is that the gang culture has changed. From the old gangs of doing things where you have one specific gang, you have another one and everybody follows rules. Now, you have a bunch of hybrids. And with those hybrids and cliques, they are smaller, but they tend to be more violent.”
And as Sheriff Brumfield pointed out, the perpetrators are not always adults.
Interim Chief Smith said, “Strangely enough, it can be anywhere from 11 to 17.”
Chief Smith said kids as young as 11 have been arrested, but because of the age, it’s little different factor.
It’s a factor Chief Smith says the older criminals use to their advantage.
“In the law enforcement community, a lot of us fear that the juveniles are being used by adults having to commit crimes because everybody has a clear understanding of how the judicial system works, and, how based on a person’s status as an adult or juvenile, they can go out and commit crimes and the consequences are going to be different,” said Smith.
Chief Smith and other law enforcement also point to the county’s geographic location to the Louisiana line and the major highways that run through it.
Smith said, ”And so we are kind of unique where we have people come from Louisiana, and the problems from Louisiana there spill over and our problems spill over to them. And so we have worked with agencies across the line, dealing with some of these problems. You also have issues where we have neighboring states, because we in the center here in McComb, you have people from outside counties that come in.”
Smith let us ride along pointing out some of the hotspots in the city, and he’s quick to note the number of homicides is down from nine to two this year.
The fact that there is peril in Pike County is acknowledged by both county and city law enforcement. The question now is: What is the solution?
“It is frustrating. The biggest frustrating part, as I said earlier, is a theme that people will not talk. They do not want to get involved. We have to get involved in our communities,” said Sheriff Brumfield.
Chief Smith said, “But I think the first thing we have to do is reestablish the connection with the community and make them feel calm and comfortable coming forth and dealing with us and addressing the problem together.”
Asked if the citizens of McComb can feel safe, Chief Smith was quick to respond.
“Oh, absolutely. Absolutely,” said Smith.
Since we did these interviews, a permanent McComb police chief has been named by the city. He is former JPD officer Juan Cloy.
Sheriff James Brumfield told 3 On Your Side he will not seek re-election.
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