The following is a statement from Sheriff Suns regarding a Forrest County officer involved shooting that happened on July 14. As previously reported, the Attorney General found the shooting to be justified.
STATEMENT BY SHERIFF CHARLIE SIMS:
Let me begin by saying we are truly saddened with any situation involving the loss of life. The incident involving Mr. Hughes was tragic and our thoughts and prayers continue for this family.
We received word from the Mississippi Attorney General’s office yesterday stating that the critical incident investigation that was conducted regarding the July 14th officer involved critical incident had been completed and their analysis of the event did not reveal any criminal misconduct on the part of any FCSO personnel. In addition, and in accordance with FCSO policy, the FCSO Investigations Division conducted an administrative investigation to determine whether any policies or procedures had been violated by deputies in completing this assignment. That investigation concluded that the deputy’s actions on that day were in compliance with FCSO policy.
But even though the investigative results revealed our deputies acted within the scope of their lawful duties and were in compliance with FCSO policy, we do not just view this incident as, “over and done with.”
Our intent is not to relive the events of July 14th, but to study them, learn from them, and seek other avenues that might help us shape better outcomes for these types of calls for service in the future.
While this incident was still being investigated, the FCSO began work on drafting a new mental health response policy that required consultation and collaboration with the Forrest County Chancery Clerk and Pine Belt Mental Health Resources (PBMHR) leadership. The FCSO met and consulted with PBMHR leadership upon their return from a nationwide CIT conference held in Pittsburg this summer.
The result of these consultations, collaborations and meetings was the development of a Co-Responder Unit consisting of members from the Forrest County Sheriff’s Office (FCSO) and the Pine Belt Mental Healthcare’s Mobile Crisis Response Team (MCERT). In this new approach, the FCSO and PBMHR MCERT personnel will combine resources and work with those known to struggle with mental health issues. This “Co-Responder” model is being developed and deployed as a result of other law enforcement and mental health response providers around the country that have employed this kind of collaboration and achieved more positive results in handling mental health calls for service.
In addition, the Forrest County Board of Supervisors affirmed their support of this initiative by allocating funding for PBMHR officials to hire additional Mobile Crisis Response Team (MCERT) personnel committed to Forrest County. MCERT personnel provide guidance and support to adults and children who are experiencing a mental health crisis. The teams work closely with law enforcement to reduce the likelihood that a person experiencing a mental health crisis is unnecessarily placed in a more restrictive environment, like jail or a holding facility, but are diverted to the appropriate avenue of treatment.
Again, although FCSO actions were not shown to be in violation of any criminal or administrative laws or procedures, we were not relying on our past and present compliance to determine our future courses of action. Instead, we took considerable time and effort to reflect on the circumstances that unfolded on July 14th of this year and to understand the lessons learned from that day in moving forward with a policy and set of procedures that we believe will show improved outcomes in how we and PBMHR MCERT members respond to mental health calls for service. We also anticipate that as individuals already known to suffer from mental health issues are monitored more proactively as a result of this new co-responder collaboration, that the need for commitment writs will be reduced and possibly eliminated in other than extreme instances.