Should newspaper take this threat seriously? One look at major's history in Panola says YES WE SHOULD!
On Feb. 19, Sheriff Alex Hodge went to his department’s Facebook page to report that he had been made aware of “possible threats posted on social media from a profile named ‘anonymous’” about committing a shooting at South Jones High School. No one was able to produce an actual screenshot or text of the post, Hodge continued, and his investigators found no credible threat. Those are his words …
But in the next paragraph, he writes, “However, the Jones County Sheriff’s Office … (is) taking this matter very seriously.” He went on to let people know that there would be a “heavy presence of law enforcement” at the school the next day. There was also a heavy presence of TV cameras to show people just how concerned he was. He took the matter so seriously, his Facebook Live SO show was done there that day, which, conveniently, was a Wednesday — the usual broadcast day — and nine days before the qualifying deadline for his re-election bid.
Now, we’re not making fun of the sheriff’s department’s response. Preventing a tragedy is preferable to responding to one, especially when children are involved. If there were widespread rumors of a possible shooting, it’s better to be safe than sorry.
But … if the sheriff gives that kind of attention to an unsubstantiated report of a possible social-media post, how seriously should he take a posted threat that we can produce?
A couple of weeks ago, he made a political speech that was disguised as a press conference from the courthouse steps to discuss a story he didn’t read about 14 felony case dismissals (18 and counting now) because his department failed to serve the indictments in a timely manner. His beloved Facebook Live was rolling the whole time, and people were posting comments.
One of his esteemed supporters, Corey Eddy, made this brilliant suggestion: “If I were Alex Hodge I’d write the people at the leader call a ticket one a week for a month. If they continued to act like 15 year olds I’d plant drugs on them.”
Now, the sheriff has no control over what people post on his page, just as we have no control over what people post on ours. But when someone writes something outlandish against the sheriff or his department on our page, we don’t support it. In fact, we rarely respond to anything there. We do most of our responding in ink. And keep in mind, all of his supporters are lashing out at us for reporting irrefutable facts. — the same thing that got the sheriff upset at us.
So, what was the reaction on his end to his supporter’s suggestion to plant drugs on us?
Well, his chief deputy, Maj. Jamie Tedford, who lives in a posh Hattiesburg subdivision and handles the day-to-day operations of the department, clicked on it with the laughing emoji. Really? The idea of setting somebody up for a felony because they’re practicing their constitutional rights is funny? That’s scary. It’s a wink and a nod to corruption, which apparently has been deemed OK if it fulfills a self-serving purpose. And it takes on a particularly disturbing meaning when you consider that this particular officer has a history of following through with threats. (See Tedford in The Panolian, so you’ll see it’s not just this newspaper “picking on” the sheriff’s department.)
So, sheriff, what kind of security measures do you suggest we take? Should we report it to the LPD since it’s in the city? Or should we just put a higher law enforcement agency on notice of a possible threat to set us up?
You may say that’s an overreaction. But we have way more proof of our reason for concern than you had three months ago when you set up your command post and Internet TV cameras at South Jones.