Meridian Star

March 21, 2014

Zero Tolerance

Chief, mayor announce new measures in fight against violence

By Brian Livingston /
The Meridian Star

MERIDIAN —     In the wake of a fatal shooting Meridian Wednesday night, Meridian Police Department Chief James Lee and Mayor Percy Bland held a news conference Thursday morning to inform those involved in a spate of shootings within the city that the gloves are off.

    "Zero tolerance starts now," said. "We are ramping up our patrols, manpower, and plans to stop this violence right here, right now."

    The press conference was called in response to the shooting death of Terrell Barfield, a 22-year-old Meridian resident who Wednesday night was gunned down in the Frank Berry Courts complex located at Eighth Street and 42nd Avenue. Barfield was pronounced dead at a Meridian hospital after the shooting that took place around 7:15 p.m.

    Detectives searched the suspect's vehicle, which police said was left at the scene after the gunman fled on foot. The license tag is LBN-182 from Lauderdale County.

    Lauderdale County Coroner Clayton Cobler said Thursday afternoon Barfield was hit by at least five bullets. Cobler said Barfield was struck in the back, abdomen, and in both arms.

    Bland, standing shoulder to shoulder with Lee, said the city would lend all its support to Lee. He said he is committed to doing whatever needs to be done in order to stop this latest string of shootings.

    "The city wants to support these officers as best we can," Bland said. "We want to give them the options to successfully stop this violence."

    The fatal shooting in Frank Berry Courts was followed shortly thereafter by another shooting in which a  40-year-old man was shot in the leg. MPD Lt. John Griffith said Thursday afternoon this incident occurred around 7:45 p.m. in the Walker Hill Apartment area, located in the 600 block of 21st Street. Griffith said the victim was treated at a Meridian hospital and released.

    "The first question people may have is whether these two incidents were connected," Griffith said. "But we don't have any evidence that would suggest they are connected. We believe they are separate."

     Lee believes the shootings are being committed by a small group of people the department has been investigating for some time.

    "We have a dozen or so people who are making an entire city of 41,000 uneasy," Lee said. "We have a good idea who is responsible for these incidents but we need some hard evidence. That is where the public can come in and help us."

    Lee said every officer who can walk will be on the streets of Meridian at one time or another in the coming days. He said patrols will be beefed up and the shifts for officers have been extended to 12-hour stretches.

    "I'm not going to go into details about our plans because I don't want to tip off those people we are searching for," Lee said.

    When asked if he would welcome assistance from outside the MPD in helping to put a stop to the violence, Lee said he would appreciate any assistance the Mississippi Highway Patrol or the Lauderdale County Sheriff's Department could lend.

    "If they want to throw manpower our way, we wouldn't reject it," Lee said.

    Sheriff Billy Sollie, when told of the statement, said he would help in any way his department could but he wanted to remind the general public it was the chief who withdrew his support in manpower and funding for the East Mississippi Drug Task Force.

    "Sure, I can commit my department that has half the manpower of the MPD to this cause," Sollie said. "But the task force was a great source of information and did a really good job of keeping the drug traffic to a minimum in Meridian. We were getting a lot of information about other crimes through the task force."

    Sollie said the task force went from 11 agents to four when the city decided to pull out.     

    Lee and Bland said they will also elicit the help of church officials, schools, and residents to help officers on the street.

    "We have 911, 311, and Crime Stoppers that should give anyone with information an avenue to help," Lee said. "The quicker we can get these people off the streets, the quicker residents can safely go about their lives."