When Jones County Sheriff’s Department investigators went to the scene of a recent shooting in the Hoy Community, they didn’t have some of the material they needed to do their job.
There were no evidence bags, no crime-scene tape and no gunshot-residue test kits, said two sources with knowledge of the investigation into the shooting, which killed a Laurel man and critically wounded his mother.
The investigator on the scene had to borrow the necessities from another agency. That’s because all of the standard tools used in a shooting investigation had been given away by Sheriff Alex Hodge to the Jasper County Sheriff’s Department.
Hodge got investigators to turn in their evidence bags, crime-scene tape, gunshot-residue kits and other items to him a few weeks back, multiple sources with direct knowledge of Hodge’s request reported, on the condition of anonymity.
Since losing his bid for a fourth term as sheriff, there have been numerous reports of Hodge giving away county-owned equipment to other agencies. Reports that he was getting rid of armored vehicles and other large items have not been substantiated.
Jasper County Sheriff Randy Johnson clarified a report about what his department received. An SUV equipped for drug-interdiction work on the interstate has been “on loan” to his department since Jones County’s interdiction officer left the department more than a year ago.
“(Hodge) did give me some evidence bags … and some gunshot-residue kits, but nobody uses those anymore,” Johnson said.
Hodge also gave “throw phones” — which are used for hostage negotiations and cost “several hundred dollars” — to the Lamar County Sheriff’s Department, two sources with knowledge of the giveaway said. Hodge’s older son Brayden is a deputy with the LCSD. Lamar County Sheriff Danny Rigel did not return a call before the paper's deadline.
There was also unconfirmed reports from credible sources that the Jones County department returned oil filters, air filters and other car-maintenance equipment to Advanced Auto Parts, and that office equipment had been given away.
Earlier this month, Maj. Jamie Tedford of the JCSD went before the Board of Supervisors and explained inventory requests the department had made to get rid of “surplus equipment.” Almost everything on the list was deemed obsolete or not working, Tedford told supervisors. They denied his request the previous month, saying that those decisions would need to be made by the new sheriff.
“We just want to have things clean and painted and leave things in good order for the new administration,” Tedford said. “When a new administration walks in, it can be overwhelming …”
Hodge’s request to transfer a Chevrolet Tahoe and thousands of dollars’ worth of highway interdiction equipment to Jasper County was denied by the board in October.
Johnson said the SUV and equipment will all be returned when Sheriff Joe Berlin takes office in January. He only put it to use because it wasn’t being used by Jones County, Johnson said.
Berlin said he had no first-hand knowledge of any of the items that had been transferred, but he’s heard about it from people who are in a position to know.
“(Hodge) said the transition would be professional, and I don’t feel like that’s what’s going to happen,” he said, adding that he hasn’t heard from Hodge or any of his department leaders about the transition.
Berlin said he’s busy making sure that he and Chief Deputy Mitch Sumrall will be ready to take over when they take office in January.
“We’re already fully staffed,” he said. “We have people beating on the door wanting to work.”
One question he keeps hearing from residents is if he’ll bring back the jail docket website, which Hodge discontinued this month.
“It’s not a top priority,” Berlin said, adding that it costs $5,900 per year, “but we’ll come up with a solution.”
When asked about the rules governing the transfer of equipment to other agencies or departments, board attorney and Chief Administrative Officer Danielle Ashley provided a rule that applies to all county departments, not only the sheriff’s department.
It states that “all inventory requests (transfers, removal, additions) have to be approved by the Board, so nothing should be moved, transferred, destroyed, etc., without the Board’s permission.”
Logan Reeves, who is state Auditor Shad White’s spokesman, cited the same statute (MS Code 17-25-25) that prohibits the transfer of county property. He also clarified that seized items, including cash, become part of the sheriff’s budget, therefore they are county property, too.
Asked if the auditor’s office investigates allegations made against officials who have been voted out of office, Reeves said it’s the policy of the auditor’s office to never discuss pending investigations. But he did make a general statement: “Just because someone is no longer in office, we don’t suspend investigations.”