Flag supporter claims man was pepper-sprayed during state flag gathering

Flag supporter claims man was pepper-sprayed during state flag gathering
DeBorah Simspon. Source: WDAM
Photo of group Sunday, July 16th.
Photo of group Sunday, July 16th.
Photo of sign woman was holding before she was allegedly involved in spraying mace.
Photo of sign woman was holding before she was allegedly involved in spraying mace.

HATTIESBURG, MS (WDAM) - A Hattiesburg woman is upset after she said a man was pepper-sprayed Sunday during a gathering of flag supporters.

DeBorah Simpson said she is a Mississippi state flag supporter that joined others outside the University of South Mississippi on Sunday afternoons with her husband.

"We support the Mississippi State flag because it's the Mississippi state flag, it's as simple as that," Simpson said.

The group has been gathering on the lawn in front of Southern Miss for 90 weeks, since the state flag was taken down on campus for donning the confederate flag emblem.

"Louisiana has one, Florida has one, California has one and we have one and the state flag flies on city properties - period," Simpson said.  "I don't get why this is so hard for people to get."

Simpson said on Sunday, a woman in protest of the group, stood down the sidewalk with a sign that said "racist" and an arrow pointing at the group.  Simpson, who is African American, said her and her husband found the sign "ironic," so they went to stand next to the woman for a photograph.  Simpson said neither her nor her husband spoke to the woman.

"We turned, walked away and she said 'house slaves' with that tone," Simpson said.

Simpson said they told the group what the woman said, which prompted a man to go over and speak to the woman.

"We don't know what he said, we watched, but by her body language we could tell he was agitated," Simpson said.  "And before we knew it, she had her mace in her hand and maced him."

The man later told Simpson he told the woman "she is the one that is a racist."

Captain Rusty Keyes said officers with the University of Southern Mississippi Police Department and Hattiesburg Police Department responded to the incident Sunday around 4:30 p.m.

This is the full statement released by Captain Keyes with the University Police Department:

"On Sunday, July 16, 2017, at approximately 4:37 p.m., officers with The University of Southern Mississippi Police Department and the Hattiesburg Police Department responded to the sidewalk at the intersection of E. Memorial Drive and Hardy Street in reference to a disturbance involving an individual being pepper sprayed in the face. Upon officers' arrival it was determined the incident occurred in Hattiesburg Police Department (HPD) jurisdiction, and at that point the incident was managed by HPD. The individuals involved in the disturbance are neither USM students nor employees."

A photo sent to WDAM 7 shows a Hattiesburg Police officer in conversation with the woman allegedly involved in the incident.  Lt. LaTosha Myers-Mitchell, Public Information Officer for the Hattiesburg Police Department, released this statement from the report:

"On July 16, 2017 Hattiesburg PD was dispatched to 118 College Drive to assist USM PD. At approximately 2010 hours, a w/m came to the HPD and filed a report with tele-service alleging he was assaulted by a w/f at 118 college drive around 1630 hours. The w/m signed an affidavit and of simple assault against the w/f. "

Lt. Myers-Mitchel said no charges were filed in the incident with the man signing an affidavit form of simple assault.  To formally file charges, that man has to go to the municipal court and file.

Neither report named the woman involved in the incident.  WDAM 7 reached out to a woman who may have been involved on social media, she did not return a request for an interview or comment.

"What makes me concerned is someone can stand up and just incite other people," Simpson said.  "I came to city council because these are all elected officials, they have the authority to make a statement to the people they represent."

Simpson spoke during the public comments period during Monday's agenda setting meeting for Hattiesburg City Council.  She told reporters after the meeting she would like to see city leaders make an announcement against that type of action.

"I'm not holding them accountable for people's behavior, of course not. But I think they do have a responsibility as elected officials to set a tone in the community," Simpson said.  "They can set a tone to say you know what, we are not going to have this in our city. If you disagree with someone, talk, talk to someone about it, don't shout."