Investigation continues into Marion’s melee

Published 7:46 pm Monday, August 24, 2009

MARION — Authorities continue to sort out the events over the weekend that led to a confrontation among about 150-175 individuals here in this town of about 3,290 that forced police chief Tony Buford to call for assistance from area law enforcement, including Alabama State Troopers.

Tension between the two largest families in town escalated into a fight Sunday on Thompson Street then carried over to Francis Marion High School Monday morning. The fight at the high school resulted in a mass of people carrying clubs, bats, tire irons and other weapons to City Hall. But authorities aren’t sure of the events that led up to the brouhaha or how many people will wind up in jail.

“We’re doing an investigation to see what we come up with,” Buford said in a news conference just hours after the melee on Martin Luther King Memorial Street. “So many were involved in the altercation in front of the police department. I couldn’t tell you all the names of all the people involved. I know some of them and some of them I don’t. The ones that I know, I’m going to try to go ahead and do the necessary paperwork, get with the district attorney’s office and go from there.”

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So far, police have arrested five adults and a juvenile and recovered four weapons — one that disappeared from City Hall shortly after the crowd began fighting in the street.

Those arrested are Charles Sawyer, George Sawyer, Littenger Moore, Joseph Moore Curtis Moore and a juvenile. They were jailed in Marion Monday afternoon. The jailer said he had no information on the detainees’ ages or addresses.

Buford said other arrests and charges could follow.

District Attorney Michael Jackson said he and members of the Marion Police Department have leveled charges against those arrested. Jackson could not match the charges with names because he did not have the information in front of him Monday evening.

Jackson said the suspects who received assault in the second-degree charges had two reasons for the charge. First, if any person physically harms an officer in Alabama, the person receives the second-degree charge. Second, those who were fighting with sticks or other weapons were charged with second-degree assault because an instrument was used.

Bonds were set for those arrested, but Jackson did not know who received which bond.

“Bonds have been set and the highest one I know is $250,000,” he said.

Cynthia Walker, a member of one family involved in the incident, said the tension developed after three men allegedly jumped on her son after a basketball game during the weekend.

“He needs to get from over there,” Walker said of her son. “He was on the wrong turf.”

One of the men who allegedly threatened Walker’s son had three teardrop tattoos under his eyes.

Said Walker, “He told me he’d put two more under there, one for my son and one for the other boy. He said he’ll show them what those tattoos are all about.”

Gang specialists in Chicago say teardrop tattoos have different meanings. Under the eyes, the tattoos can mean the person wearing them killed someone in or out of prison. The tattoos also are gang identifiers of the Crips or Bloods, depending on which side of the face the tattoos are worn — left for the Crips and right for the Bloods.

Buford said the verbal altercation between the families broke out on Thompson Street in a location referred to as “The Hill” in Marion on Sunday. The verbal sparring became physical when someone allegedly shot out the back window of a parked vehicle. A 3-year-old was in the vehicle.

Buford said police responded to a call to stop the altercation, but by the time his officers arrived the parties had left.

“We didn’t bring anybody to jail,” he said.

His officers were pushed to make an arrest, but did not, the police chief said, adding the altercation became a target for investigation.

“When we have a situation like that, people want you to come out and just start arresting people. The law don’t work like that.”

Buford had intended to find the people responsible for the shooting on Monday.

“Unfortunately, that brought us to where we are now,” he said.

The police department received a call from Francis Marion High Monday morning that a fight had broken out on campus. The fight was between students and non-students. Walker’s son was not involved.

“The school called us and told us not to let the kids come to school because some threats had been made on their lives,” she said. “When we did get out to school this morning, I felt like the school should’ve done more to protect our kids. Something really needs to be done about that family,” she said.

Officers retrieved two weapons from a car on campus, Buford said.

“That was may main purpose to go ahead and get those guns secured and go ahead and get those folks locked up so we wouldn’t have a situation with somebody getting shot and things of that nature,” he said.

One of the families showed up at the police department to fill out paperwork. While they were in the hall, the other family showed up and another verbal altercation began. As that occurred, others gathered outside.

“Then you had the police between them,” said Buford. “We were way outnumbered, then I called for assistance.”

The crowd pushed. Buford said someone hit him with an iron pipe and the mayor was assaulted. Officers recovered another long gun and a pistol from individuals in the crowd.

“It happened so fast I did the necessary things I thought best just to pull the three police officers out of the way and wait for some help.

Help arrived. Selma sent 10 police officers from the detective, administrative and patrol departments, said Selma police Lt. David Evans.

Other officers and deputies arrived from Bibb, Perry and Marengo counties, Demopolis, Greensboro, Moundsville and Centreville. Alabama State Troopers, members of the Alabama Bureau of Investigation and the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms also responded to the calls.

Some remained in Marion Monday night in casse trouble between the two families ignited again, Buford said.

During the melee, one of the confiscated long guns went missing from City Hall.

“The guy responsible is on his way back to return it,” Buford said. “It has sentimental value. He said his grandfather gave it to him.”

Two individuals were taken to the hospital with non-life threatening injuries.

Katie Nichols and Leesha Faulkner contributed to this report.