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Congressman: Don't prosecute sheriff who seized Katrina ice


March 24, 2006
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Congressman: Don't prosecute sheriff who seized Katrina ice

By HOLBROOK MOHR

The Associated Press Writer

JACKSON, Miss. -- Randy Walker swears he would have died from his diabetes after Hurricane Katrina had a sheriff not seized two FEMA trucks filled with ice and distributed it to residents, many of whom had to keep their insulin cold.

Now, that sheriff could be prosecuted on charges of interfering with a federal operation.

Forrest County Sheriff Billy McGee commandeered two 18-wheelers full of ice from Camp Shelby, a Federal Emergency Management Agency staging area, after five days passed with little relief for residents living without electricity in the wake of the deadly storm.

"Man, I was wanting to hug Brother Billy when I saw that ice. We were glad somebody was there to help us," Walker, who would not give his age, said Wednesday.

McGee had worked out a deal to plead guilty to a misdemeanor charge of interfering, intimidating and impeding a federal officer, but U.S. Attorney Dunn Lampton withdrew from the case without explanation and the Justice Department sent it to federal prosecutors in Louisiana.

U.S. Attorney David R. Dugas in Baton Rogue, La., said he has not decided whether to prosecute McGee.

McGee and his attorney declined a request for an interview.

The ice trucks had been sitting idle at Camp Shelby, a National Guard base just south of Hattiesburg, before the sheriff ordered them sent to the towns of Petal and Brooklyn on Sept. 4. McGee has said his deputies detained a National Guard soldier who tried to interfere.

Residents of Forrest County have circulated a petition in support of McGee, who has been in office since 1991, and some have collected money for his defense.

"If it hadn't been for him, I'd be dead right now and I know that," Walker said. "I'll go to court for him or whatever it takes. I don't want to let him down as much as he has done for me."

Rep. Bennie Thompson, D-Miss., a critic of the federal government's response to Katrina, has urged the Justice Department not to pursue the case.

The congressman said he is "convinced that there's not a jury in the state of Mississippi that would convict the sheriff for doing what he did under the circumstances."

Even though Forrest County is some 60 miles inland, the hurricane downed trees and destroyed roofs, and the power was out for weeks in much of the area.




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