Police already exploring ways to improve response

Published 12:50 am Wednesday, February 17, 2010

SELMA – A man threatening to jump from the Edmund Pettus Bridge on Tuesday called attention to the Selma Police Department’s ability to handle crisis situations.

The incident was diffused within about an hour, but Police Chief William T. Riley III knows a similar situation in the future may have a different outcome and he is already working on improving the department’s ability to respond.

“We have the baton and (pepper) spray, but they are not appropriate for this situation to use to incapacitate him,” Riley said. “There are some less lethal items out there. When I got back to the office, I was talking to a lieutenant about looking into less lethal items and training. To me it’s immediate. I’m not going to put off to tomorrow what I can do today.”

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Selma police negotiated with Algia Edwards, of Greenville, while he stood irate on the southeast corner of the bridge prepared to jump, after partially undressing and throwing some of his clothes into the Alabama River below.

Riley said he has not personally been involved in a situation like the one Tuesday, but his training and instinct took over when facing the distraught Edwards.

“The first thing I was concerned with was his safety, Riley said. “We blocked off the road so there was no traffic, so he doesn’t get run over by accident. Then it’s positioning people, and seeing who is having the conversation with him. You’re having a back-and-forth trying to see what’s bothering him.”

At first, Edwards yelled and pointed, but as the talks wore on, he removed his shirt and tossed it over the edge, before putting one leg over the edge, threatening to jump into the water.

Riley said the department was working to put all of its assets into place, but they were not yet fully prepared had Edwards jumped at that moment.

“We want to make sure we have our assets ready if the individual does decide to jump,” Riley said. “We called the fire department and had a rescue boat in the water. When he put his leg over, I knew the boat was not in place and his chances of surviving were slim. It’s not a perfect science. There are a lot of things going on, and we’re trying to get our assets into place”

After a few moments, Edwards returned to standing on the bridge and Riley’s focus became on keeping him talking and trying to find a way to work through the situation without anyone getting hurt.

“When he was straddling the fence, my level of concern grew higher and I knew I had to intervene,” Riley said. “I wanted to get his attention on me and focus on me. I identified myself and I told him my position. He said he was a vet, and I told him I am a vet and I’m here to help him. When his leg was over, this elevated to a new level. Our goal is to de-escalate. We want to keep him talking.”

Edwards had requested several people come to the bridge and wanted to bring justice to a man he says threatened him with a gun. Police obliged him and assured him the suspect would be caught. That’s when Edwards voluntarily left the edge and was led to nearby police car.

“I told him ‘I gave you everybody you need, I got the name of the guy who pulled the gun on you, now I need you to come off the bridge and let’s go and get the warrant,’” Riley said. “That’s when he decided to come down. I told him no one is trying to rush you, we’ll get the name of the suspect. I’ve done everything you asked me to. I raised my level and I was much more stern and that’s when he responded.

“I’m glad it happened that way, and I’m glad we could get him before he hurt himself, because he would not only be hurting himself, but he would hurt his family as well. His family might not have known what was going with him.”

Riley plans to look into other options for the police force that might bring future situations under control quicker and easier, but does not know what those options are right. As of Tuesday evening, Riley was just happy with the favorable resolution.

“I’m very pleased with the good outcome,” Riley said. “Even though there was a good outcome, we can do better. Everything that happened, we’re going to review it.”