08/19/10 — Fremont residents critique citations

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Fremont residents critique citations

By Laura Collins
Published in News on August 19, 2010 1:46 PM

Fremont residents expressed their displeasure at Tuesday night's Board of Aldermen meeting about seemingly new, stricter law enforcement measures in town.

Several residents said they feel they are being harassed by police in town for minor infractions such as seat belt violations and not coming to full stops at stop signs. The residents who spoke said they were not in violation of the law and were not happy about getting tickets stating otherwise.

"People in this town are tired of them arresting people," resident Chauncey Simms said. "When they put that suit on, they think they own the whole town."

Barbara Wooten said she was pulled over in town and given an $127 ticket for not wearing a seat belt, though she says she had one on.

"Instead of rolling up behind all of us, he needs to catch these people rolling blunts," she said, then added about the officer, "Cool that little fellow down before somebody spanks him."

Fremont police Chief R.K. Rawlings said he stands behind the seat belt law, and added that Ms. Wooten actually got a seat belt violation warning before she was given the citation.

"Seat belts have always been a push from the government's Highway Safety Program. For a lot of the citations that were written (in Fremont), they were getting warning tickets before they got tickets. It's easy to complain about it, but the easiest way is to just put your seat belt on," Rawlings said. "I am highly disappointed that they think they don't need to wear their seat belts. I have investigated a lot of accidents in my career, and I investigated a lot of lives lost senselessly because the lack of wearing a seat belt. I think compliance in the seat belt law is a good thing."

Also at the meeting, Wilson resident Detoya Lewis said he was driving his motorcycle in Fremont when he was given a ticket for not coming to a complete stop at a stop sign. Lewis agreed that he didn't put his feet down when he stopped, but said that he still came to a full rest. In addition to the ticket, Lewis said he wasn't happy about how the officer spoke to him and added that he was told to stay out of the corner convenience store by the officer.

Store owner Jamal Sarama also spoke at the meeting and agreed that the officer came in the store and told him to not let Lewis come back to the store. Sarama said he does not believe in kicking anyone out of his store.

The chief was also familiar with Lewis' incident and said that while an officer doesn't have the right to tell someone to stay out of a store, he does have the right to tell him to stay out of the store front, because of the town's loitering law.

"The only reason the officer would tell him to stay out of in front of the store is because of our loitering law which is in place to prevent drug dealing," Rawlings said.

Resident Brenda Hicks spoke to the board and said she believes the police continuously patrol Sycamore Street at night, more so than other streets. She said she was putting it bluntly by saying, "I think this is a black thing."

Rawlings said the police department focuses its efforts where there is the most crime and where there are the most calls.

"We work the areas that have the crime," Rawlings said. "If there's crime on Sycamore Street, that's where we'll be. If we're not getting calls on the north side of town, we'll still patrol that side of town, but we go where the crime is, no matter where it is."

In reference to the comment about it being a "black thing," Rawlings said it's ridiculous.

"I'm a black chief and there is no way I would tolerate any kind of racism or discrimination here," he said. "The amount of people being stopped in Fremont can easily be tracked, I keep all those records. If anybody wants statistics of the ratio of citations being written, I'd be happy to do that."

Board members and Mayor Devone Jones went into closed session after the comments were made to discuss personnel issues. Beforehand, however, Jones said he takes the comments seriously and will look into them because he wants Fremont to be "one of the best small towns."

Board member Annie Lewis thanked people for attending the meeting and said, "That's what I want everybody to do. That's the only way we will know what's going on."