WDAM Investigation: Balancing care and safety in Petal neighborhood

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Photo Credit: WDAM(WDAM)
Updated: Sep. 11, 2018 at 8:20 PM CDT
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PETAL, MS (WDAM) - Tucked away in a neighborhood inside the city of Petal, a home on Yellow Pine Drive is causing concern among neighbors, filtering to the police department and city hall.

“There has been some clients at that home that have gotten out at night and gone through the neighborhood. Police had been called,” said Petal Mayor Hal Marx.

The home is one of many in Petal and across the state operating under Brandi’s Hope Community Services, based in Magee, which according to filings with the secretary of state’s office, has been a business since 2010.

According to its website, the mission is to provide housing and support services for folks with intellectual and developmental disabilities. However, safety at the home on Yellow Pine is causing concern with Marx.

“When the police get called, there’s always the possibility that other misunderstandings could lead to someone physically restrained or injured in some way," said Marx. "We don’t want to happen.”

According to police records, cops were called five times since April. Those calls were for a disturbance, a fight, a suspicious person and most recently, for someone throwing something at two cars. Last month, a 26-year-old man was arrested, charged with disorderly conduct and disturbing the peace after reportedly throwing rocks at officers.

“Our police officers are trained to handle a lot of situations, but when you’re dealing with someone who maybe doesn’t have the mental capacity to understand police commands, that could be a little dangerous because police have to find a way to restrain that person and get them back to the home,” said Marx.

Marx questions whether proper supervision and care are being provided to the people who live there. We took those questions to Danny Cowart, the man in charge of Brandi’s Hope Community Services.

“Most of these folks came from institutions or they may have come from other family homes,” said Cowart.

“We saw no real safety issues to the public,” he said.

Cowart said the home on Yellow Pine is staffed 24/7 and the people living there should be treated like everyday citizens who may need a little extra support. .

“We can’t expect perfection. There’s going to be life,” said Cowart. “We have to do what we’re doing because these people with disabilities deserve a life like you and I have.”

This isn’t the first time Petal has had a run in with the business. Back in 2012, the city tried to shut down two homes operated by Brandi’s Hope Community Services, claiming the people who lived in them didn’t qualify as a family.

Digging though board minutes from an aldermen meeting in October 2013, the board voted to uphold a decision from the city’s planning commission that the homes violated city code. That led to a lawsuit from the U.S. Department of Justice, which claimed Petal violated the Fair Housing and Americans with Disabilities Acts.

A settlement was reached with the city paying $25,000 to Brandi’s Hope Community Services and another $25,000 to the U.S. Government. Because of the federal government stepping in, the city can’t impose restrictions or require permits. Marx said while he understands the need, the city should have some say.

“I’d like to see the laws changed at the state or federal level to give us some local control over where the facilities go or to give us local control over permitting them if there’s repeated problems,” said Marx.

Operating without much oversight, Cowart said there’s no need for city governments to have that type of control.

“We know there were incidents, but we also know how we’re going to address those with training, staff, collaboration with that city," Cowart said. "We’re going to reach out to them. We’re going to try to be good citizens.”

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