Other than the hum of cars passing by and the occasional hustle and bustle of students at the local high school, life on residential Bellview Avenue was peaceful until the evening of Feb. 4.
Rudy Leroy, who has lived on the street for 40 years, had just finished watching the Super Bowl when he heard the unfamiliar sound of gunshots.
“Pow. Pow,” he said. “I heard two shots. I walked down to the end of the driveway and looked both ways. I didn’t go any further.”
Soon, the sound of sirens from police cruisers and ambulances filled the air.
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The gunfire killed one man and injured two others in what police believe was a gang-related shooting at a home that was targeted, Interim Police Chief Brandon Ashley said.
The homicide is one of five in the city since January — compared to a total of six homicides over the previous eight years combined. In addition to the killings, six others have been injured in gun violence this year.
The spike in violent crime is so alarming that city leaders are working with the District Attorney’s Office, federal authorities and officers from surrounding law enforcement agencies to help police the city, investigate crimes and get those responsible off the streets.
Between Feb. 6, 2017, and early March, there have been 1,084 incidents reported to Moss Point police. Among them were 14 sex crimes, at least 27 aggravated assaults, 17 armed robberies, 280 burglaries and more than 20 drive-by shootings. In some cases, however, police determined the crime reported is unfounded.
Of all the crimes reported during that time period, seven occurred on Bellview Avenue in 2017. So far this year, five crimes have been reported on the residential street, with two of them related to the shooting on Superbowl Sunday and another involving an alleged rape that has not yet yielded any suspects in the case.
“This is a gang problem,” Ashley said. “It’s not just in Moss Point. The Pascagoula gangs come over here to commit crimes.
“Moss Point is actually a really safe community. For lack of a better term, these are criminals shooting other criminals. We are doing everything we can to arrest the perpetrators in this community, but we run into problems. Many of the victims won’t even cooperate. They don’t cooperate even if they were shot. They just say someone in a hoodie came up and shot me and they don’t know anything. It’s the culture of ‘Don’t talk to the police. Don’t be a snitch.’”
A political ‘altercation’
The increased violence comes amid an ongoing search for a permanent police chief and infighting between Mayor Mario King and an alderman, Sherwood Bradford, that prompted a police response at City Hall on Feb. 20.
Three days after the political “altercation,” Keith Davis rescinded an offer to return as police chief at an annual salary of $95,000 — which is $25,000 more than previous Chief Calvin Hutchins made when he left on Feb. 9.
In a Facebook post, Mayor Mario King said Davis backed out because of a “culture issue.” Davis would not elaborate. His decision to stay on as head of enforcement at the state Department of Marine Resources came just three days after the incident between King and Bradford. Bradford said the incident is “water under the bridge” as far as he’s concerned.
He also said he had no apology to offer to King.
“I don’t think I have to apologize for defending my family,” said Bradford, who is also a local minister.
The increased violence also comes just as King and his wife, Natasha King, are set to go to trial, each on a charge of misdemeanor simple assault domestic violence.
Need for a police chief
Since June 2008, Moss Point has gone through four police chiefs, one of whom was Davis who stepped down in 2014, citing a “deteriorating” relationship with former Mayor Billy Broomfield.
Calvin Hutchins was the last to leave in February to take a job as head of law enforcement in the Pascagoula-Gautier School District. Hutchins had replaced Art McClung, who was fired in 2016.
The search for a new police chief is ongoing as violence in the city rages on.
Just this week, a student was a bus stop near the high school when she said she was forced at gunpoint into a car, sexually assaulted and then dropped off on a street near the school. The victim identified her alleged attacker.
Residents just want the violence to end.
“After the (Superbowl) shooting, we felt like we had to be more alert,” said Bellview resident Thomas Stafford. “We have taken additional security measures since that night.”
Stafford and other residents suspected something wasn’t right at the home because so many cars were coming and going.
“When it happened, we were stunned,” he said. “We thought maybe if anything had gone on there, it might be a burglary or a drug raid. We never thought it would be to the degree of someone being shot and even injured.”
‘It’s time to speak up’
For years, police and prosecutors have been battling with those who witness crimes but then refuse to testify for fear of being killed.
Like others in the city, Stallworth wants people to visit Moss Point because “it’s a beautiful community.”
“Moss Point is a very valuable place to many people,” he said. “We are working to get rid of the bad, I think. The city is working with our district attorney and he seems to be working very hard for us.”
As for city officials, he said, “the voters put those individuals there because they believed they were the people who could move Moss Point forward. All of the citizens, myself included, want to see them work together. Don’t bicker with each other but be on the same page about things and get the job done.”
Other residents believe people are fearful of the gangs who try to intimidate people so they won’t turn someone in for a crime even if they are witnesses.
“I feel like the majority of the people around here fear for themselves so they don’t say anything,” Leroy said. “They do have gangs here in Moss Point. They go around intimidating folks. It all gets down to drugs., gambling and you can throw prostitution in there too.”
Like others in the community, residents blame parents who are not taking proper measures to discipline their children. Instead, they said, some parents are fearful of their own children.
In turn, Leroy added, “these kids end up turning to what they see on the streets and that’s drugs.”
Leroy is among other residents who want people to start speaking up about the crime that is plaguing the city.
“Just like that shooting after the Superbowl, unless somebody talks about what happened that night, they will never catch who did the crime,” he said. “These people need to be held accountable. I’m not afraid of no man, but I do have a fear of God in me. If I see something, I’m going to say something.”
Stallworth blames a lot of the problems on how easily guns are accessible.
“It’s gotten to the point where we are fearful of all the guns that people are carrying,” he said. “It’s gotten to the point where we are even fearful of the guns getting into our schools. It’s unfortunate, you know, because it’s the acts of a few that cause the problems for the rest of us.”
Since FBI agents started walking the neighborhoods asking questions, Stallworth said that has made many residents feel much safer.
For David Wright and other residents, the key to solving the issue with crimes is getting through to young people.
“We’ve got to become a part of their lives in order to develop them and get them back on the right track,” he said. “We’ve got to pay attention. I’m not giving up on them.”
Anyone with a tip on a crime should call Moss Point Police Department at 475-1711 or Mississippi Coast Crime Stoppers at 877-787-5898.
By the numbers
Here’s a snapshot of homicides and shootings so far in 2018:
- Jan. 3: A former Moss Point High School standout football player was shot and injured outside a home in the 6100 block of Gregory Street. Police said Brown was standing in his driveway when three of four men approached him and starting firing shots. No arrests have been made.
- Jan. 12: Ronald Broadnax Jr., 43, was found shot to death in a car in the 4000 block of Gautier Street. The neighborhood is off Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard near Kreole Elementary School. No arrests have been made.
- Jan. 18: Kellie R. Guy, 24, of Moss Point, was found shot to death in his car in the 6600 block of Orange Grove Road. The killing was ruled a homicide. No arrests have been made.
- Jan. 27: Eddie McCory, 49, died of a stab wound after he and a Moss Point woman got into a fight at a home in the 4600 block of Saracennia Road. Haley Turnage, 33, has been arrested on a charge of manslaughter.
- Feb. 4: Fabian Dwight Dailey, 50 was shot to death and two others were injured in a home invasion on Superbowl Sunday at a rental home in the 3500 block of Bellview Avenue. No arrests have been made, though federal agents have taken the lead in the investigation.
- Feb. 6: Roderick Murray, 26, was shot several times and another man, Joshua Liddell, also 26, suffered fro ma superficial gunshot wound while they were sitting in a car near Washington Street. Police found out about the shootings after both men showed up at Singing River Hospital for treatment. No arrests have been made.
- Feb. 10: Xavier Davison, 16, was shot in the chest at a home in the 3500 block of Rollins Avenue. He died later at Singing River Hospital. Jaylen B. Fountain, 22, was arrested on a charge of manslaughter in the case.
Moss Point Police Department