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Monday, March 17, 2008

RESIDENTS RALLY


TERESA SETTLE NORRIS
Tennessee Express News Writer
* Several eyewitnesses to the Irish Day arrest of an Amish couple in downtown Erin tell a different story than police about the incident.
* An Amish couple was arrested by Erin Police Officers for leaving their sleeping infant in a locked car while they manned an Irish day booth selling jams, jellies, swings, and other Amish goods.
* However, there’s more to the story, according to several eyewitnesses.
* Long-time Houston County Commissioner Jamie Fussell of Erin said he feels awful about what he considers to be the mistreatment of the couple.
* “They [the Amish] are real timid, not boisterous,” Fussell said, in defense of the couple. He said he and his wife saw all of the police activity before the parade but didn’t think anything about it until afterwards when they heard what happened.
* “The Amish would go up and check every five minutes [on the baby sleeping in the car], and everything was fine,” Fussell said, but some woman went beserk and the police handcuffed the mother, the father, and the driver of the vehicle and carried them to jail.
* “The thing ought to be stopped before it goes any further,” Fussell said of the arrest. “We’re a three-star community, and we let good people [like the Amish] come here and then we treat them like this!”
* “The whole thing just ought to be dropped,” said Fussell, who later went to the jail to wait for the couple to be released.
* Fussell is not the only person who feels this way.
* Terri Mathis, a teacher’s aide at Houston County Middle School who had a booth nearby, stated, “Everybody around there was just appalled.”
* She said the whole incident should have just been handled with some tactful words. “I had seen them walking back and forth [to the truck ] to check on the [sleeping] baby. We kept seeing her and her sister going back and forth checking on it every five to ten minutes.”
* Mathis said when the Erin Police showed up, the scene turned into a fiasco.
* “It was almost a circus. I felt so sorry for them [the couple]. They weren’t hurting anything. It wasn’t cold. It wasn’t hot,” she said. “I feel like it could have been handled more discreetly.”
* “Their world is so different from ours,” she said. “When two worlds meet, you need to be more balanced.
* “I feel like the City of Erin owes them an apology, especially the police officers. I didn’t feel like the cops were there to serve and protect.”
* And she’s not the only one…
* Tony Lewis, who owns Dickson Tae Kwon Do, said he was minding his own business, trying to buy some apple pies from that very Amish couple when he inextricably got tangled up in the incident… to the point that he, too, was handcuffed and arrested.
* “I was buying a pie, waiting for my daughter to dance, and it was about 20 minutes till 11,” Lewis recalls. The total came to $9.95, and he gave the Amish couple a $20 bill. They didn’t have change, and asked him if he would watch their booth while they went to their truck for change.
* Lewis said several minutes passed, then several people said the wife was getting arrested. That’s when Lewis looked over and saw them handcuffed with their arms behind their backs.
* “I don’t think it was necessary [to cuff them],” Lewis said, “They weren’t criminals.”
* Lewis said he went over to the couple to explain that several eyewitnesses could vouch for the couple checking on the baby, but Erin Police Officer Chad Smith wouldn’t listen to him.
* “He said, ‘I don’t care who you are or what your opinion is,’ and he ordered me to leave.’
* “So I backed up five or six feet, and said, ‘I’m an American; I have my rights.’
* “And that’s when he handcuffed me and arrested me.”
* Lewis said it didn’t end there. He said after Officer Smith handcuffed him, the officer got up right in his face yelling at him, trying to get him to do something.
* “I have several witnesses that said the officer was trying to pick a fight with me,” Lewis said.
* For his intervention, Lewis said, “I missed my little girl’s dance because I was in handcuffs.”
* Later, he said, Officer Smith removed his handcuffs and just gave him a citation for interfering with police business.
* “I don’t know if I would have done anything different,” Lewis said, looking back on the incident. “I was just trying to give them information.”
* In the meantime, Lewis now has to look forward to re-living the incident when he goes to court April 15.
* Erin Police Chief Darrell Allison backed his officer’s actions.
* For all the people who were upset at the couple’s arrest, he said, “They need to ask the persons that saw the {abandoned} child and filed the complaint. Those people were as outraged at the child {being alone} and those people are at us doing our job!”

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