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Vicksburg Police Department recognizes three officers for acts of heroism

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Left to right: Deputy Chief Penny Jones, honoree Officer Russell Dorsey, Chief Milton Moore, honoree Officer Mathew Barnes, Deputy Chief Bobby Stewart (photo by Thomas Parker)

At a ceremony Tuesday morning, the Vicksburg Police Department recognized three officers for acts of heroism.

Officers Africa Hunter and Matthew Barnes were awarded the Police Cross while Officer Russell Dorsey received the department’s top honor, the Medal of Valor. The officers were lauded by Police Chief Milton Moore and Mayor George Flaggs Jr. for going above and beyond the call of duty.

Dorsey joins Deputy Chief Bobby Stewart as the only active medal of valor recipient. Stewart and former Officer Greg Kurtz and Sgt. Jon Carter were awarded medals of valor for rescuing an infant on Royal Street from a burning structure in 2000.

Barnes was recognized as the departments “Top Cop” earlier this year by Central Mississippi Crime Stoppers. That award was before the incident for which he was recognized Tuesday.

Moore credited Capt. Michael Bryant with recommending the officers for these honors. He and Mayor Flaggs quoted scripture as they praised the officers. Flaggs said he hoped this would lead to recognizing officers on at least a quarterly basis for their good works. In an impassioned speech, he called on the community to support the department.

VPD provided details on the acts that led to the officers being honored:

Chief Milton Moore presents Officer Russel Dorsey with the Medal of Valor (photo by Thomas Parker)

Officer Russell Dorsey (Hire date Feb. 4, 2009. Assigned to Traffic Division)

On Monday, March 11, 2019, Officer Dorsey responded to a house fire on Howard Street. When he arrived, the house was already fully involved with flames visible. He learned from neighbors that the 68-year-old resident was still inside. Dorsey stepped onto the front porch and saw the resident inside the house, trying to exit through the front screen door, which was locked. The resident turned and walked back into the house.

Dorsey picked up a hatchet that was laying nearby and used it to chop through the door. He entered the house, looking for the resident, and located him in the living room. As Dorsey tried to reach him, part of the ceiling fell in at the rear of the house, and the structure filled with thick smoke. Officer Dorsey stepped back outside to draw a quick breath then reentered the burning house. He found the resident down behind a chair in the living room. Grabbing him by his collar, Dorsey pulled the resident out of the house to safety.

Officer Africa Hunter (Hire date Nov. 2, 2009. Assigned to B-Watch.)

On Saturday, July 18, 2020, Officer Hunter was dispatched to a local motel on a welfare check. The sister of a guest had called 911 to report that she had not heard from her sister and was concerned. Hunter tried to make contact with the guest, but no one answered when she knocked on the motel room door. She asked the desk clerk to unlock the door for her and when the door was opened, she found the 50-year-old female lying unconscious on the floor. Hunter checked the woman for a pulse and respiration but found none. She notified dispatch to send an ambulance and began performing cardio-pulmonary resuscitation. The victim responded and began to breathe on her own; however, she again stopped breathing so Hunter repeated CPR, which she continued until Vicksburg Fire Department emergency personnel arrived. The victim was again revived and transported to Merit Health River Region.

(Officer Hunter was unable to attend today’s ceremonies and will receive her award when she returns to duty.)

Police Chief Milton Moore presents Officer Matthew Barnes with the Police Cross. (photo by Thomas Parker)

Officer Matthew Barnes (Hire date May 11, 2016. Assigned to D-Watch. K-9 Officer.)

On Friday, July 24, 2020, Officer Barnes was dispatched to the area of Cherry and Clay streets in reference to a vehicle blocking the intersection. The driver of the vehicle had become disabled due to a medical emergency and lost unconsciousness. When Barnes arrived, he found the car in the middle of the intersection, engine running, with all the doors locked. The driver was in obvious distress and did not respond to Barnes’ calls to wake her. The unconscious driver began to press the accelerator, causing the car to advance further into the intersection. Along with bystanders, Barnes attempted to hold the vehicle in place. With the vehicle steadily moving and the occupant in need of medical attention, Barnes made the decision to break out a window. He told the bystanders what he was going to do and said that he needed a heavy object. A hammer was provided, and Barnes used it to shatter the window of the driver-side rear door. He then entered the vehicle through that door, put the vehicle in park and turned off the engine. Vicksburg Fire Department emergency medical personnel arrived, and they were able to get the driver out of the vehicle and into the ambulance. She was transported to Merit Health River Region for treatment.

COVID-19

Dr. Woodward: ‘Wear a damn mask’

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(Photo by Sharon McCutcheon on Unsplash)

Dr. LuAnn Woodward’s frustration is palpable in a tweet she has pinned at the top of her Twitter page.

“Wear a damn mask. Wash your hands. It’s not a big deal. It’s not political. Just do it!” she wrote in July as the first of four bullet points.

Whatever was relevant in July is even more so in November as cases and hospitalizations rocket past July’s numbers.

Woodward is the vice chancellor of the University of Mississippi Medical Center in Jackson, a place that is intimately familiar with the challenges of providing health care in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic. As of this week, UMMC was out of critical care beds, similar to all of the big hospitals in Mississippi.

“As of 6:46 am today, UMMC’s bed status is -31 beds, which means that 31 people are admitted but waiting for a bed to become available,” she wrote Wednesday in another tweet. “Who will be #32 or #33 or #34?”

Not all of those beds are occupied by COVID-19 patients, but the growing influx of critically ill virus patients means there aren’t beds for people suffering in car crashes, from heart attacks, severe asthma and a host of other potentially life-threatening conditions.

“Those of us in health care are numb, frustrated and so very tired,” she wrote.

Woodward isn’t the only health care leader in Mississippi loudly ringing alarm bells to get people’s attention about the pandemic.

“Our hospitalizations are growing at a rate that is absolutely terrifying,” said State Health Officer Dr. Thomas Dobbs, who heads up the Mississippi State Health Department, in a media briefing Wednesday.

“Without a doubt, I think we’re headed into the darkest period of the coronavirus for Mississippi.”

Dobbs issued guidance Wednesday urging Mississippians against not to attend any unnecessary gatherings, including Christmas parties, just as he asked people to avoid large Thanksgiving celebrations. Other gatherings to avoid include family gatherings outside of the household or nuclear family, weddings, funerals (other than close family and preferably outdoors), sporting events and in-person church services.

Dobbs and State Epidemiologist Dr. Paul Byers said they are concerned that high school athletic activities are spreading the virus.

“Dr. Byers and I have long advocated for a delay or limitation on high school athletics, especially in situations where people can’t be socially distant and safe, and I think part of that is we’re paying the price for that right now,” Dobbs said.

The guidance from the nation’s top health care officials around the country mirror what Woodward, Dobbs and Byers have been advocating for months: Wear a mask in public. Avoid groups of people. Observe social distancing. Wash your hands. None of it is difficult and none of it is political, despite those who would have you believe otherwise. The same advice is coming from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the Mayo Clinic, Johns Hopkins University and many more.

To date, Gov. Tate Reeves has not issued another statewide mask mandate, despite the urging of health officials. He remains convinced that his county-by-county piecemeal approach is more effective. As of Tuesday, 54 of Mississippi’s 82 counties are under restrictive measures due to their increased COVID-19 case counts. Those measures include mandates to wear masks in public and other social distancing orders.

“I am willing to take the political heat … because I believe in my heart and my mind that this is the best strategy to protect my fellow Mississippians,” Reeves said in an interview with WAPT Tuesday.

During the past week, Mississippi set records for one-day new COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations. The seven-day average of new cases was over 1,600 Wednesday, exceeding the previous high set in July of 1,360. Many of Mississippi’s major hospitals have no more room in their ICUs. All of those increases are before the expected spike of new cases from Thanksgiving gatherings, which should begin to show up within the next week or two.

“We need to take responsibility for ourselves, because it’s so widespread right now, and we’re not seeing the community effort out there,” Dobbs said Tuesday. “I’m really asking you guys to protect yourselves.”

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Announcements

Mississippi VA announces changes to its annual Wreaths Across America ceremonies

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(photo courtesy MSVA)

This year, both State Veterans Memorial Cemeteries at Newton and Kilmichael will host private ceremonies for families with loved ones buried at both locations. The events will be held Saturday, Dec. 19, at 11 a.m.

“We must do our part to ensure that we keep as many Veteran families as safe as possible during the COVID-19 pandemic, and unfortunately, that means cutting back on the number of attendees at this year’s events”, said Mississippi VA Executive Director Stacey Pickering in a statement. “However, we feel that it is important to honor our resting heroes and allow their families to spend quality time at these hallowed grounds.”

Close to 1,260 Veterans and their families have chosen the State Veterans Memorial Cemeteries as their final resting place. For more information on both State Veterans Memorial Cemeteries, click here.

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News

‘Check Your Charity’ helps you be an informed giver

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(Photo by Gerd Altmann from Pixabay)

Mississippians are known for their generosity, especially during the holiday season. During the last reporting year, Mississippi charities brought in roughly $1.7 billion. As we creep closer to Christmas, it’s important to remember the wisest giver is an informed giver. The annual “Check Your Charity” campaign encourages Mississippians to check the validity of a charity or organization on the secretary of state website before making a donation.

“Our Check Your Charity campaign aligns with one of our agency’s missions to make government more transparent,” said Secretary of State Michael Watson in a release. “We are committed to providing as much information as possible to shield Mississippians from scammers, not just during the holiday season but all year-round. This has been an incredibly challenging year for many families, and I am incredibly proud of the work our Charities Division is doing to protect Mississippians’ hard-earned money.”

All charitable organizations are required to register with the secretary of state’s office and renew yearly. Certain types of organizations are exempt from registration but are nevertheless required to file a notice of exemption with the secretary’s office.

Each year, the secretary’s office publishes a “Report on Charitable Organizations in Mississippi” to provide transparency and keep citizens informed of critical financial information regarding Mississippi charities. The annual report includes information such as total revenue, fundraising expenses and charitable purpose expenses.

Click here to view the 2020 Report on Charitable Organizations in Mississippi.

Mississippians should keep the following in mind when making decisions regarding charitable donations:

  • Check your charity. Use the “Charity Search” portal on the secretary of state website to verify the charity is registered with the State. Ask questions before giving and be sure to ask for answers in writing. Legitimate charities will always welcome your inquiries.
  • Avoid pressure tactics. You do not have to make a donation immediately; take time to evaluate the information provided by the charity.
  • Watch for similar names. Many charities have similar names. Often, scam artists intentionally use names resembling those of respected groups. Take a few extra minutes to research the charity online so you can be sure your donation goes to the right place.
  • Be wary of telephone calls. Always get the name of the person calling and the exact name and spelling of the charity. Ask if the caller is a professional fundraiser, and if they are, ask how much of your donation actually goes to the charity.
    • Consumer organizations recommend at least 65% of a charity’s total expenses be spent on program activities directly related to the charity’s purpose.
  • Verify mail solicitations. Be wary of mail containing novelty items you can keep “if you contribute.” Federal law states that unless you ordered the item, you can keep it without contributing.
  • Always get receipts. Receipts are vital for tax deductions and provide a tracking mechanism for donations. To be safe, always donate by credit card or check (directly to the charity).

Taking these extra steps will not only protect you, it will also ensure your donation goes to those who need it most. For more information, contact the Charities Division at 601-359-1599, or click here to send an email to one of the Charities team members.

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