Since 2016, 21 law enforcement officials who serve Hattiesburg have been recognized for their service to the Hub City. This year, seven more joined that elite group of men and womn.
This recognition comes at the hands of 100 men known as the Hattiesburg Hundred. The group’s purpose is to raise money through private fund for emergencies and/or hardships experienced by the family members of a full-time sworn law enforcement office or fireman who serves the Hattiesburg Metropolitan area, arising from and directly related to the officer’s death or serious injury sustained in the line of duty.
The organization was founded by local author and estaurateur Robert St. John.
“Hattiesburg 100 is based on an idea I had about 10 years ago to start this organization,” St. John said last week before the start of this year’s recognition ceremony at Lake Terrace Convention Center. “I always said, ‘next year, I’m going to do this,’ and I would talk to people about doing this and they thought it was a great idea. And I kept getting busier and busier and put it aside.”
And then two Hattiesburg Police officers – Benjamin Deen and Liquori Tate – were murdered, and St. John was ashamed he’d not already started the organization.
“That was the impetus and motivation for me to get this started,” he said. “If this would have been established at that time, there would have been money there to help these families.”
And Hattiesburg Hundred was born of a tragedy.
St. John said the organization is based on a very simple premise.
“We have 100 members here in Hattiesburg who are basically just good friends of mine who I called up,” he said.
Dues are $250 a year and there’s not a lot of meetings. Of the dues, $200 goes into a fund established with the Greater Pinebelt Community Foundation. “We hope we never have to use the money in that fund,” St. John said.
St. John did say that last year when an officer was shot during a chase, Hattiesburg Hundred was able to donate to him to help ends meet.
The other $50 goes to put on the annual recognition banquet. During the banquet, seven Hattiesburg-area agencies are brought in, whether they are law enforcement or a first responder agency. Those include Hattiesburg Police Department, Hattiesburg Fire Department, Forrest County Sheriff’s Department, Lamar County Sheriff’s Department, The University of Southern Mississippi Police Department, the Forrest General Hospital Police Department and Mississippi Highway Patrol Troop J.
A supervisor from each of these agencies is asked to bring in an officer that can be honored for meritorious service throughout the year.
“It’s a very moving, emotional and meaningful evening,” said St. John.
“When I first started the organization, I had the help of Michael Shemper and David Fortenberry and the three of us did it for a year or two. That’s when we decided we needed a board, so, we elected a board of directors.”
Hattiesburg banker Wes Rouse currently services as president of the organization.
“We truly appreciate the dedication and sacrifice of these brave officers,” Rouse said. “This fund is one small way we can honor and support them and their families.”
St. John and others are quick to say that this night is all about the fund and honoring these sworn officers who rarely get thanked, and not about Hattiesburg Hundred.
“I have a lot of things going on a lot of the time, but this is one of the things I really truly look forward to,” St. John said. “I never leave this event without feeling grateful for those men and women who are first responders and law enforcement officers.
New USM Police Chief Rusty Keyes said it was an honor for a member of his police force to be recognized.
“I don’t care if you’re on a campus, a school resource officer or a deputy, we’re all a family,” he said. “We all do the same job and in this community, we’ve always been a close law enformcent family. Just to be here to let one of my officers be honored and to show how we contribute to the safety of the community, it means a lot.
USM Officer David Byrd was honored on behalf of the USM Police Department.
For Byrd, he said it was “a very humbling thing to experience. It’s something that has kind of floored me. To say it was unexpected would be a total understatment.”
Byrd found out when he was called into his Chief Rusty Keyes officer where he also found Major Chandler. “They told me to close the door; they had something to tell me. That’s not the kind of thing you like to hear,” Byrd said.
Byrd has been in law enforcement for about 25 years with 20 of that at Southern Miss.
He said law enforcement had changed dramatically since he started. “Since I’ve been at USM, the training and awareness we have engrained in us has changed for the good,” he said. “Thanksfully I’ve worked for a command staff that’s not reactive but proactive and helps us get prepared in case something does happen.”
Prior to the start of the event, St. John asked for a moment of silence to be observed in memory and honor of Officer Robert McKeithen, a 24-year veteran of the Biloxi Department, who was killled in the line of duty about two weeks ago.
Deputy Tim Hartfield
Forrest County Sheriff Dept.
Corp. Jessica Sparkman Clark
Forrest General Hospital Police Department
Engineer Brian Sheffield
Hattiesburg Fire Department
Officer Alex Kitch
Hattiesburg Police Department
Investigator Scott Wagner
Lamar County Sheriff’s Dept.
Captain Ricky Lott
Miss. Highway Patrol Troop J
Officer David Byrd
USM Police Department