In one of his last-ditch efforts to maintain power, Sheriff Alex Hodge took to the SuperTalk Mississippi airwaves days before a runoff election in a desperate plea. Much of his time was spent assailing this newspaper and its staff, particularly when it dealt with an animal raid case from July 2018 that played heavily in Hodge’s fight for his political survival.
He “broke” news with SuperTalk host Bob Ghetti about managing editor Sean Murphy’s relationship to the couple — one the Leader-Call reported on back in 2018. Hodge intimated that heroin dealers were on par with what the Sennes had done with “abuse” of animals. He then said, “The Sennes were arrested because they broke the law.”
Airtight case. Easy peasy.
As longtime ESPN College Gameday host Lee Corso would say: “Not so fast, my friend.”
On Tuesday, all criminal charges were dropped against the retired decorated Army colonel and his wife, bringing to a close a saga that started with a raid and turned into a war between Hodge, his department and this newspaper. In addition to the charges being dropped, the couple will be given $5,000 in restitution for five housepets the couple were promised — on video — would not be touched. The Humane Society of the United States, which joined the JCSD and Southern Cross Animal Rescue in the 2018 raid, also laid out exactly what happened to nearly 90 dogs and cats seized from the property on Lyon Ranch Road.
The case certainly should never have gotten anywhere close to this far, but Hodge’s hubris would not allow him to admit he made a mistake. In the telling of the history of Jones County sheriffs, sadly, that will have a lasting legacy for Hodge — he just couldn’t admit he made a mistake.
The mistake didn’t come by the raid in itself, because many of those animals appeared to be in drastic need of assistance, although there is no proof of what the conditions those animals were in when the Sennes took possession of them. One woman who is nearing her 70th birthday couldn’t possibly care for those animals on her own, although we believe she tried as best she could. At most, it was a severe case of hoarding.
Hodge should have realized that on the day of the raid, had he bothered to talk to the “suspects.” But he never did talk to them. He broadcast his Facebook TV show from the scene, then who knows what he did? But then he had Thursday and Friday to talk to investigators and officers to find out the depth and breadth of the criminal enterprise — a Purple Heart recipient and his wife. He had Saturday and Sunday, too, to realize that this was not the case to hook his star too. This was not the crime of the century, but an overworked, exhausted woman with a spotless criminal record who was incapable of asking for help. Ask her today, and she will swear she was not overwhelmed, but we believe differently.
By the time Monday rolled around, Hodge was in it too deep. The couple was arrested, strip-searched, paraded in front of TV media — on a misdemeanor. Hodge and then-SCAR President Heather Williams had a press conference about the “crime of the century.” In court that day, when Judge Billie Graham released the Sennes on their own recognizance, Hodge slammed his fist into a nearby table, having to be restrained by Maj. Jamie Tedford. Maybe through that fist slam, he knew things would start unraveling for him.
Hodge then set his sights on this newspaper’s coverage of the case. While one editor had a relationship with the couple, the motivation behind the coverage was because the entire case stunk from the beginning. It stunk because SCAR waited a ridiculous 7 1/2 weeks between witnessing “horrific abuse” to signing affidavits to such. It stunk because the JCSD inexplicably went to Chancery Court Judge Frank McKenzie to secure a warrant, something longtime local officials have told us is beyond odd. Criminal warrants usually go through Circuit Court or Justice Court. It stunk because a Humane Society representative, speaking alongside Tedford, said the couple’s five “house pets” would not be touched.
Our suspicions were proved true when ruling after ruling from Judge Dal Williamson siding with the Sennes — rulings that have been held up in higher courts, solidifying the notion that Williamson ruled correctly
The case is now over. A sad chapter in the history of the Jones County Sheriff’s Department, SCAR and the HSUS will soon be just a memory.
And this is what likely will haunt Hodge, who was soundly defeated in the sheriff’s runoff by Macon Davis: Had he come out on that Monday and said, “The Jones County Sheriff’s Department has decided not to charge the Sennes criminally. After careful examination, this was a severe case of hoarding that had gotten terribly out of control. We are so thankful those animals are on the way to recovery. We also thank the HSUS and SCAR for assisting us in this massive animal rescue. When agencies work together, we are all better. Teamwork is key.”
But Hodge couldn’t.
His hubris wouldn’t let him.
And that one decision played a key role in his losing his job as sheriff.