Jackson County

No action against Pascagoula officers in Moss Point chief’s traffic stop

City officials have taken no action against Police Chief Kenny Johnson or the four officers involved in the handling of the July 29 traffic stop of Moss Point Police Chief Art McClung.

“As you know, I am limited in what I can share regarding personnel matters,” City Manager Joe Huffman told the Sun Herald in an email early Wednesday morning. “I can tell you that there has been no change in employment status since yesterday in the Police Department. No officers have been suspended or terminated.”

Huffman said he believes the city has “all the information” regarding the incident and “I don’t see an effort to investigate the matter beyond what has taken place is needed at this time.”

After the Sun Herald published a story online on McClung’s stop Tuesday afternoon, Moss Point officials called a special meeting the same night and voted to indefinitely suspend McClung without pay pending an internal investigation.

Pascagoula patrol officer David Cole had initiated the traffic stop after McClung, in a city-issued SUV with blue lights, was clocked going 109 mph on U.S. 90 between the Gautier bridge and the Pascagoula high-rise bridge, according to Pascagoula police video. He was going 54 mph over the speed limit. He also admitted to police on the scene that he had had “at least three vodkas.”

Pascagoula responds

McClung was never arrested or cited for any violation and no report was written. McClung told the Sun Herald earlier this month he was not impaired and does not drive drunk. He also laughed and said, “No way in the world I was going 109. Please. I wouldn’t do it.”

In addition to Johnson, Cole, and Lt. Doug Adams, the other officers involved in the stop were patrol officers Jason Murphy, James Prisock and John Lynd.

In a subsequent email from Huffman on Wednesday, he said the he didn’t see the need for the city to investigate the matter at this time “beyond what has taken place.”

He did directly respond to Johnson’s call to release McClung.

“Chief Johnson made his decision based on an after-hours call without benefit of seeing the video or being on-scene and he made the judgment call that he thought was best at the time,” Huffman wrote. “Police officials have to use discretion and I believe that Chief Johnson always acts with integrity in his professional approach to public service. I think this is evident in his willingness to fully disclose information to the media.

“He has provided the Sun Herald with police video and his perspective on the matter,” Huffman wrote. “This is consistent with the city’s efforts to maintain transparency and act with integrity.”

The Sun Herald, after independently learning of the stop, filed a public records request to obtain all of the police audio and video footage, along with police radio traffic and other information about it.

‘No comment at this time’

The Sun Herald reached out to District Attorney Tony Lawrence to ask him a number of questions, including whether his office planned to look into the incident with McClung and Pascagoula police.

“The only information I have about this incident is what has been published,” he said in an emailed response. “I have received no contact from either agency (Pascagoula or Moss Point police departments) regarding this matter. I am not making any further comment at this time.”

In September 2014, Lawrence and District Attorney Joel Smith announced the creation of a DUI task force to keep law enforcement updated on developments in Mississippi law and the latest strategies to prosecute cases.

A study of the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration showed from 2008 to 2012, one-third of all traffic fatalities in Mississippi involved alcohol-impaired driving.

When asked why officials started the task force, Lawrence at that time referred to an emotional instance in his office when he was talking to a man who was holding his 8-month-old baby while the baby died after being hit by a drunken driver.

McClung said he does not drive drunk or impaired.

The Sun Herald tried unsuccessfully to reach McClung for comment after his suspension.

Also in an email, Huffman added “Johnson, his command staff, officers and other employees of the Police Department have worked hard to provide outstanding professional service to our community.

“I think it would be unfortunate for negative perspectives regarding this event to overshadow the years of exemplary service by Pascagoula Police Department personnel. I believe Kenny Johnson is doing good things for Pascagoula and I support his efforts as chief of police.”

Margaret Baker: 228-896-0538, @Margar45