The Burglary Incident (August 20, 2009)
By CLAY McFERRIN
SUMNER — When Pat Ryan arrived at his 502 Cassidy St. residence about 2:30 p.m. last Thursday, he saw uninvited guests fleeing from the back door of the house, according to Sumner Police Chief Clifton Harris.
More than six hours later, Will E. Pittman Jr., 28, of 510 Central St., Tutwiler, was arrested and charged with burglary of a dwelling house in connection with the Ryan break-in. Pittman was released that night after posting bond of $5,000.
Harris said lawmen continue to search for another person in the case.
“Through information from a witness, we learned there was a second male suspect,” Harris stated. “We know his identity and charges have been filed. We’re still searching for him.”
Harris said the perpetrators apparently used some instrument to jimmy the lock on the front door.
“Two subjects entered the home,” he added.
Once inside, “they ransacked the house,” Harris noted. “They were opening drawers, a jewelry chest, a closet and went into the bedroom and kitchen areas.”
The chief said the burglars moved selected items to a central area.
“They piled up some goods including guns, a flashlight, camera and a flat-screen TV,” Harris said. “We later determined that some old coins and jewelry were actually removed from the home.”
Harris noted that Pittman allegedly fled the home, crossed a drainage ditch and entered an adjacent field that was waist-high in cotton.
A Tallahatchie County sheriff’s deputy who was first on the scene called for the K-9 unit from the Mississippi State Penitentiary at Parchman to assist in the search for the suspect. The K-9 unit arrived about 3:10 p.m.
Harris said a matching set of shoes was found in the field, the first about 30 yards from the Ryan house.
Assisted by officials with the Sumner, Tutwiler and Webb police departments and the Tallahatchie County Sheriff’s Department, the K-9 contingent of dogs and five officers searched until about 6:15 p.m.
Harris said other officials continued to search the area for several hours.
About 8:50 p.m., the Sumner sheriff’s office received a phone call from a woman who lives just outside the Sumner town limits stating that the person being sought by the manhunt was “at her house trying to get her to make a call for him.”
Sumner police responded to the report and took Pittman into custody without incident.
Harris said Friday the owners of the burglarized home were conducting an inventory to determine if any other items were missing.
The Manhunt & Fallout (8/20/2009)
By CLAY McFERRIN
SUMNER — The FBI is investigating charges that Tallahatchie County Attorney John Whitten, among others, acted unlawfully during last Thursday’s manhunt of a burglary suspect here.
Will E. Pittman Jr., 28, of 510 Central St., Tutwiler, was arrested and charged Aug. 20 with burglary of a dwelling house in Sumner.
W. Ellis Pittman
His father, Clarksdale attorney W. Ellis Pittman, claims that prior to his son’s arrest, Will Pittman’s life was threatened by Whitten during a manhunt that followed a burglary in which his son is alleged to have been involved.
Tallahatchie County Sheriff William Brewer said he was contacted by Ellis Pittman Monday morning with complaints over the circumstances surrounding his son’s apprehension.
“I contacted the district attorney’s office, the Mississippi Bureau of Investigation and the FBI,” noted Brewer. “The incident is being investigated.”
Ellis Pittman told The Sun-Sentinel Monday that his son’s life was placed in jeopardy during the Sumner manhunt.
“Anytime someone is shooting at you with pistols, shotguns and, some say, machine guns, and chasing you with a tank, then I would call that abuse,” said Ellis Pittman.
The attorney said he has been told that Whitten and others fired weapons into a cotton field where his son was seeking refuge during the manhunt.
“There were shotgun shells and other spent casings in the area,” he noted.
“I was told that John Whitten was in charge of everything,” he added.
Ellis Pittman said another of his sons, Cornelius Pittman, who arrived at the scene was given a stern warning by Whitten.
“John Whitten was sitting there drinking a Budweiser and took a pistol out and showed it to Cornelius and said they were going to kill Will and his entire goddamn family,” said Ellis Pittman.
He also echoed some accounts that Whitten drove a military tank to the scene.
Ellis Pittman said he was not present while the search was ongoing but noted that he has questioned several people, including some law enforcement officers, who he claims have corroborated some of the statements.
“Just like if Will broke into someone’s house he should be punished, if they did those things, then they also should be punished,” said Ellis Pittman. “Clearly, shooting at someone is aggravated assault.”
Ellis Pittman said he does not know whether any legal action will be pursued.
“Will is an adult, so if there are any charges pressed, he will have to do that on his own,” he noted.
John Whitten III
(Photo by Charlie Smith)
Whitten vehemently denies all of the accusations.
“This is a vicious attack or someone’s idea of a bad joke,” the Sumner lawyer said Monday.
“I never saw the kid, I never fired a round, I never drove anything other than a Jeep,” Whitten added.
A self-proclaimed collector and restorer of many things military, including machinery, Whitten said a tank is not part of his collection.
“I don’t own a tank, never have owned a tank. Have always wanted one, but they’re impractical,” he noted. “I checked into one a few years ago, but it weighed over 50 tons.”
Whitten said he does own an armored personnel carrier, which someone else borrowed last Thursday to help block traffic from entering the area of the manhunt.
“The personnel carrier doesn’t have a gun mounted on it,” he added.
Whitten said he did speak with Cornelius Pittman, but only to tell him that he should help convince his brother to surrender.
“I think several folks shot up in the air, but I was not one of them,” noted Whitten. “There were no machine guns involved, to my knowledge.”
In the end, Whitten said the accusations that have been reported by Ellis Pittman — many of them are reflected in graphic detail on the Web site, weallbe.blogspot.com — are nothing more than “pure bull.”
“I’ve always heard that when the facts are on your side, you pound on the facts. When the law is on your side, you pound on the law. When neither one is on your side, you pound on a table. He’s pounding on a table,” Whitten said of Ellis Pittman.
On another matter, the Clarksdale attorney voiced concern that James Nichols, a maintenance worker for the Town of Tutwiler, was in Sumner, wearing a police uniform complete with a badge and sidearm.
“He’s not a certified law enforcement officer,” said Ellis Pittman, who noted that Nichols “was in on the chase” and also was permitted inside the area at the Sumner jail where his son was being held.
Tutwiler Acting Police Chief Tommy Harris said Tuesday that Nichols, a former full-time police officer in Tutwiler who as of July 1 was transferred to the town’s maintenance department, had remained an “auxiliary police officer,” available for train derailments and other emergencies at the request of the police chief.
However, Harris noted that as of Monday, in a joint decision made by himself and Tutwiler Mayor Genether Spurlock, “we relieved [Nichols] of all of his duties and he’s no longer associated with the police department.”
Harris said Nichols, who owns his own sidearm and uniform, was contacted last Thursday by K-9 officials from the Mississippi State Penitentiary at Parchman, who asked that he bring Tutwiler’s “infrared detection machine” to aid in the manhunt at Sumner.
“He’s the only person certified to operate it,” noted Harris. “That machine tells if someone is hiding behind a tree or something.”
Harris declined to say whether Nichols overstepped the bounds of his authority last Thursday. But when asked why he was disassociated from the police department, the acting chief said, “We did it because of this deal and some other matters.”
Brewer confirmed Tuesday that he and some of his employees have been contacted by the FBI as part of that agency’s investigation.
However, as for his department’s role in the Will Pittman manhunt, Brewer, who was in Olive Branch last Thursday attending to a family matter and communicated via cell phone with deputies at the scene, said his own personal investigation into the conduct of lawmen reveals no apparent misdoing.
“As far as what the law did, it looks like normal procedure,” Brewer noted.
Sumner Police Chief Clifton Harris declined to comment Monday on Ellis Pittman’s statements.
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