Crime

Ocean Springs woman arrested after objecting to oak tree trimming in city park

Diane Stevenson questioned why an Ocean Springs employee was cutting tree branches and it escalated to where she was arrested and handcuffed.

Stevenson, 73, was arrested on a charge of disorderly conduct for allegedly harassing a public works employee for trimming the trees at Fort Maurepas Park.

The arrest happened around 11:30 a.m. Thursday after the public works’ employee called his supervisor to tell him someone was upset and screaming about him trimming the trees at the park.

The report the police filed and the version of what Stevenson said happened are decidedly different.

According to the police report, a public works employee was in the middle of doing the job when Stevenson walked up and started “screaming and telling him he needs to stop cutting trees.”

Stevenson said she saw a guy cutting limbs off adolescent live oak trees and politely asked why they were being cut. The man told here it was to protect children from getting their eyes poked.

She asked to talk to his supervisor, who she said also told her the trees were being cut to protect children because once a child ran into a tree, got an eye poked and the parents threatened to sue the city.

Stevenson said she called the mayor’s office and was told someone would get back to her.

Instead, she said, two police officers arrived at the scene and said she had caused an altercation.

According to the police report, an officer went to the park after receiving a report from the employee’s supervisor. The arresting officer said in his report that he walked up to Stevenson to get her side of the story, but she got aggravated and started walking back toward the employee who had been trimming the tree.

Stevenson said she asked the police to follow her to talk to the employee, who she said would confirm, “There was no altercation.”

The officer arrested Stevenson on the misdemeanor offense after he shouted out to her several times to stop and talk to him, but she kept walking and refused to turn over any identification.

Looking back, “Maybe I should have stopped,” she said. “I was so flabbergasted, these cops showing up.”

When the police officer arrested Stevenson, the report said, he placed her hands in “double-locked handcuffs.”

Once at the police department, the officer took off Stevenson’s handcuffs and placed an ankle cuff attached to a bench outside the booking area in the jail. It’s common, Police Chief Mark Dunston said, to take the handcuffs off the person in custody and put on the ankle cuff while the officer goes into the booking room to enter information into the booking system about the arrest and the suspect.

“It’s a general practice to make people more comfortable,” Dunston said. “The ankle cuff is put on so they don’t get up and move around.”

Once the officer finished entering information about the arrest in the booking room, Dunston said, Stevenson was immediately released from custody.

“We arrest people every day,” Dunston said. “That’s what police do.”

Stevenson, who has a Ph.D. from Columbia University and can trace her roots in Ocean Springs to 1699, said she’s never been arrested before.

“They fingerprinted me. There’s a mugshot,” she said.

Ocean Springs police responded to another complaint about tree trimming the same day in another area, but the officer who responded was able to calm those involved down, resulting in no arrest, Dunston said.

Stevenson said it happened near her home, but the difference was a neighbor who is an attorney was on the scene.

While she was born and raised in Ocean Springs, she said she’s definitely not happy with the way the tree ordinance isn’t being enforced and the trees aren’t being protected.

She isn’t on social media, but said she understands many city residents have expressed similar comments.

Some people may see her and the others as tree huggers, she said, but it’s more. “The economic base of this town based on trees.”

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