Residents concerned about neighbor

Published 10:59 am Thursday, April 17, 2014

Vandalism, property damage and “menacing” behavior by one Ironton resident have caused neighborhood residents to seek help from Ironton City Council.

The Rev. James Stowe, pastor of Quinn Chapel, spoke at council’s regular meeting Thursday asking for law enforcement’s help dealing with a man Stowe and others allege is causing unrest in the community.

Council member Aaron Bollinger, who is a detective for the Lawrence County Sheriff’s Office, and Captain Pam Wagner of the Ironton Police Department, both said they are aware of the man who Stowe said is “menacing” the neighborhood.

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Bollinger told Stowe there is not a lot that can be done besides arresting the individual, putting him in jail and putting him through the court system.

“There is only so much time they can give him, and they can’t force him to get the help he needs,” Bollinger said.

Stowe said he has concerns about public safety and the lack of police presence on Eighth, Ninth and Tenth streets from Vernon to Mulberry streets.

“I talked with the mayor earlier this week and I want to thank him for his fast response and directing me to the proper person to talk to,” Stowe said. “The community has been dealing with a lot of vandalizing and properties just being messed with and things of that nature. A particular individual has been causing a lot more trouble than others and the community is wondering what can be done to bring about peace.”

Vice mayor and city council president Kevin Waldo asked if the person Stowe identified has been arrested.

“This person has been arrested plenty of times and when I talked to (Ironton Chief of Police Dan Johnson) he told me the thing that must be done now is that people must continue to file reports,” Stowe said. “People have stopped filing the reports. He has been arrested a number of times — and if I say his name everyone will know that he has been arrested a number of times — and for whatever reason is out the next day or out the next week and in and out and in and out. So people just don’t feel that filing a report really does anything to get this person off the street.”

Waldo asked Ironton Police Officer Pam Wagner if she was aware of the person of whom they were speaking.

“We actually filed a report on him yesterday,” she said. “I personally have arrested this individual — and I think I know who you’re talking about — numerous times. I know his family has taken some action in the past and he was hospitalized for a length of time a couple of times. A lot of this is a mental health issue as much as it is a crime and criminal issue. Unfortunately, our hands are tied when it comes time for them to go to court. That’s not passing the buck on anybody, that’s just the way our system works. We are just going to have to continue doing what we’re doing. When we see this guy walking down the street we can’t just snatch him and put him in the car, we have to have a reason.”

Stowe said the community just wants to know what can be done to get this person off the street so people can feel safe.

“I don’t know to what extent people have actually witnessed this person doing things,” Philip Heald, council member, said, “as opposed to just because of the circumstances saying it is this person.”

Stowe said there are witnesses and people have personally experienced criminal acts against their property as well as menacing threats.

“Certainly whenever there is an accumulation of things regarding a certain person the prosecutor’s office is going to know about that,” Heald said. “But it is frustrating and I think that the justice system doesn’t always work as well as we want it to but I think that people from the police force on up to the prosecutor’s office try to address these things.”

Heald asked if there is a neighborhood watch.

“It’s not formally a neighborhood watch, but people are watching the neighborhood,” Stowe said. “People inform each other of what’s going on and when a certain person is not medicated they do act a certain way and they are not medicated often.”

Stowe said people are “growing numb” to what the man is doing and to the punishment he receives for his crimes.

“People feel like it doesn’t matter what they do because he’s going to be out in a few months and he’s going to act the same way he’s been acting,” Stowe said. “So they grow numb to pressing any charges or filing anything because they don’t feel like anything is going to take place. People are growing more frustrated and taking more precautions to make sure their properties and families are safe. It’s creating an uneasy feeling. I’m just getting acclimated in the community and I’m getting used to what people have been used to for years. I just want to know what can be done to get him off the streets and get him the help he needs.”

Waldo said incompetence is also an issue.

“When you’re truly incompetent and it’s been determined by a psychologist or psychiatrist then you can’t stand trial and on a misdemeanor charge,” he said. “Sometimes those kind of just go like you’re saying and there’s not a whole lot the court system can do in a situation like that.”

Bollinger advised Stowe to urge people to file a report if any incident occurs.

“There’s no law enforcement officer that’s going to be able to do anything unless reports are filed and they know what’s going on,” he said.

Stowe added he is also concerned not just about safety and peace, but the City of Ironton’s positive progress when it comes to public image.

“With the hotel and other economic advances for the city people don’t need to be deterred from coming into the city because of rumors of a person walking around violating and doing what he wants to do because that’s just what he’s been doing,” Stowe said. “It can have a negative impact on Ironton just people hearing about this. People just want to feel safe and secure. It’s a nuisance. People are growing very tired and sick of this.”

Stowe asked if he could be mentally evaluated and Bollinger said he has been multiple times in the past.

“When people are evaluated it’s only as to whether they might harm themselves,” Bollinger said. “We can’t just put somebody away and force them to get the help they need.”

Ironton Finance Director Kristen Martin said she, too, is aware of the individual because her parents live in the neighborhood.

“My children spend a majority of their time while I am here with my parents and although we can’t physically take this person off the street, we can increase the police presence,” she said. “I think this individual knows he can go from sunrise to sundown and not see an officer on Mulberry and I think if the new cruisers, or any cruiser, were to come down that street on a consecutive or more frequent basis he may consider some of the actions that he’s doing. They can’t be everywhere, but they can definitely beef up their presence.”