Wednesday, June 14, 2017

Sheriff Mason refuses to provide weapons qualifications scores.

Jackson Jambalaya filed a public records complaint against Hinds County Sheriff Victor Mason at the Mississippi Ethics Commission last week.  JJ attempted to obtain the weapons qualifications scores for Hinds County deputies last year but Sheriff Mason denied the public records request.


Sheriff Mason said releasing such records would endanger officer safety.  JJ strongly disagrees with the Sheriff.  JJ has filed a public records request for the scores each year for the last three years.  Sheriff Mason's predecessor Tyrone Lewis as well as Rankin County Sheriff Bryan Bailey and Madison County Sheriff Randy Tucker provided the records when requested. They were provided with no fuss. They were published with no endangerment to public safety.


The public has a strong interest in seeing whether Sheriff's personnel who are carrying weapons are actually qualified to use them.  The passing score is 75/100 on the state test.  Earlier post with video of test and scores. 
JJ first became interested in the issue when Hinds County Senior Circuit Judge Tomie Green  asserted her authority over the bailiffs.  She and Sheriff Lewis engaged in a court fight that ended in total victory for the Sheriff.  JJ reported after submitting a public records request that several bailiffs failed the test but were allowed to carry pistols by Judge Green.  JJ reported in 2014:

Three bailiffs failed to qualify with their sidearms last year and this year.  Deputy Joyce Harper was the worst offender.  The bailiff is assigned to Circuit Judge Winston Kidd. She shot a 31 in 2013 and a 48 and 49 in 2014.  Deputies must shoot a 75 score out of 100 possible points to pass (A video of a complete live-fire demonstration of the test is posted above. The test is the same for all agencies.).  Deputy Daisy Taylor passed by one point last year but failed this year as her best score was 64.  Deputies are allowed to retake the test if they fail.  However, the bailiffs do not have to do so as Judge Green took away the Sheriff's right to discipline them if they fail or need additional training.  Thus the bailiffs are carrying weapons and have the right to use them even though they aren't qualified to use them.

Thankfully no mishaps or "bad" shootings took place when Judge Green "supervised" the bailiffs.   The scores improved when Sheriff Lewis regained control.   

There have been quite a few controversial police shootings over the past few years.  Some of them have been justified but some shootings were not and officers were prosecuted.  The public thus has a right to know if police carrying weapons are indeed able to use them.

There is a layer of supervision over a police chief.  A police chief must answer to a Mayor and a legislative body.  They can demand that he show proof that his officers are weapons-qualified.  However, the Sheriff answers to no one.  The Supervisors can have no authority to review the job performance of the Sheriff and his employees.  Ensuring that deputies are indeed qualified to use the weapons they carry is a core duty of the Sheriff.  He is an elected official.  The only supervision takes place at the ballot box every four years.

The only danger to public safety involving these records is if the deputies are not qualified to use weapons but still carry them on duty.  The public does not need to find out a deputy was not qualified to carry his pistol after he makes a deadly mistake.  The purpose in obtaining such information is to prevent such a tragedy from happening and hold the Sheriff accountable to the voters. 

The Sheriff's notice of denial stated:

The Hinds County Sheriffs Office is in receipt of your open records request dated May 31, 2016. The request seeks information pertaining to the fire arms qualifications scores for all employees and personnel of the  Hinds County Sheriffs Office.  We regret to inform you that these law enforcement records are exempt pursuant to Miss. Code Ann.§§ 25-61-12(2)  and 25-61-3(±).

Specifically, fire arm qualification scores of law enforcement officers are exempt from disclosure to the public in that they fall within the following categories:

• Records that would disclose investigatory techniques and/or result of investigative techniques;
• Records that would endanger the life or safety of a public official or law enforcement 
personnel, or confidential informants or witnesses; and/or
•   Records pertaining to quality control or PEER review activities.
See Miss. Code Ann.§ 25-61-3(±) (iv), (vi), (vii).
The Mississippi Attorney General's Office has addressed a similar issue to this request and has opined that such law enforcement training records are exempt from public review. Attached is a copy of said opinion for your convenience.
JJ contends that his interpretation of the opinion is mistaken.  The public records request does not seek records of training procedures or techniques.  Such knowledge could give an advantage to criminals.   The opinion dealt with a request for the training manuals and procedures for the use of chemical agents during an arrest.  JJ is seeking a class of records.  The public has a right to them just as it has a right to know if police officers are actually certified law enforcement officers.  Copy of opinion #4105478.

The public safety exception does not apply to this request. If anything, the opposite is true.  The withholding of these records can endanger public safety if the public is not allowed to know if Sheriff employees who are carrying weapons didn't pass a required weapons qualification test.  The public has a strong interest in knowing whether they armed personnel are weapon-qualified.  It is highly doubtful that criminals are going to read the list of scores and memorize the names of the personnel who failed the test.  The public should be able to hold a Sheriff accountable if his people are not properly trained and they shouldn't have to find out only after a deadly mistake is made.   The Sheriff and JJ have a simple disagreement over public records policy.  Mississippi law provides a means of resolving the dispute. 

The Sheriff has 14 days to respond to the complaint.  The Ethics Commission will investigate and take further action if needed. 

19 comments:

Anonymous said...

I'm all for public records, believe me, but wouldn't this be something that the enemy (i.e. thugs, criminals, pimps, and the average fun-seeking guy) want to know about? Heck, if I were a pro criminal, I'd want to pair up with the weakest shooter out there. I know it's a stretch, but I'm just sayin...

Anonymous said...

This is just another example of Victors inept ability to interrupt anything over a 3rd grade level..

Hey ! I'll show you i don't have to comply!

Victor and friends your done!..he knows there's more than he can count, who are still carrying than he'd ever admit..

JUST A MATTER OF TIME TILL HE'S OUT.

Anonymous said...

if one can not score a 75/100 on this shooting test, you sux at shooting and/or following direction.

Anonymous said...

A good chunk of Victors paid employees have never shown up for a day of work. That might explain his reluctance.

Anonymous said...

I'm waiting for the Spooner fan... Where ya at buddy?

Anonymous said...

• • SPOONER FOR SHERIFF • •

Anonymous said...

This might be a legal issue if a Deputy shoots someone that was unjustified.
In a lawsuit against the county, the money ain't coming out of the elected officials pockets (Supervisors and Sheriff) they must don't give a shit! Thanks JJ for bringing it to their attention.

Anonymous said...

Spooner did qualify with 100%

Anonymous said...

Not to mention many officers carry in a holster not allowed at the federal LE training center for a reason.

Anonymous said...

Sexual harassment lawsuits, Investigation screw ups, Lawsuits and settlements from illegal pursuits..

It's all piling up and it'll only get better.

Soon he'll lose control of the jail to the DOJ, re election time and THAT'S A WRAP MY FRIENDS.

Is it getting heavy Victor, can ya feel it.

Anonymous said...

From 2:55 - "Victors inept ability to interrupt anything over a 3rd grade level.."

Say what? Pot calling the kettle black, perhaps?

Anonymous said...

@8:35
I love the grammer police..I'm sure they meant to say interpret..

Lmao, go back to your 9-5 keyboard job, tough guy.

Smh, your "That guy" in the crowd..

Anonymous said...

@9:02 am - "you're"

Anonymous said...

@11:02

yeap, that guy..

Anonymous said...

Victor have shown who he really is! A fake and a showboat that the public is tired of seeing an hearing!

Anonymous said...

@12:33

Amen to that..

SPOONER FOR SHERIFF!

Anonymous said...

One and Done

Anonymous said...

Why should the head of a police agency, ANY police agency, hand out to the public or press copies of ANY 'test results'?

Do we ask to see copies of test results for firemen trying to qualify for promotion?

Anonymous said...

Why is this even an issue? Unless there is some sort of non-compliance or policy issue, this is a double nothingburger with cheese. Who cares who scored how on an antiquated and unrealistic minimum skills test. Are you gonna chase down the folks who didn't qualify and see if they're carrying a firearm, and/or ask for their remedial qualifications, or are you just providing more nonsense for for people to waste their time on?

I'd be more interested in the results from a shoot/don't shoot, scenario-based type training where decision making is involved. Anyone can punch holes through a static paper target in a predictable situation.

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