Charges for sheriff who confiscated Katrina ice?

Associated Press
Published March 25, 2006

JACKSON, Miss. - Randy Walker says he would have died from his diabetes after Hurricane Katrina had a sheriff not seized two FEMA trucks filled with ice and distributed it to residents, many of whom had to keep their insulin cold.

Now, that sheriff could be prosecuted on charges of interfering with a federal operation.

Forrest County Sheriff Billy McGee commandeered two 18-wheelers full of ice from Camp Shelby, a FEMA staging area, after five days passed with little relief for residents living without electricity in the wake of the deadly storm.

"Man, I was wanting to hug Brother Billy when I saw that ice. We were glad somebody was there to help us," Walker said.

McGee had worked out a deal to plead guilty to a misdemeanor charge of interfering, intimidating and impeding a federal officer, but U.S. Attorney Dunn Lampton withdrew from the case without explanation and the Justice Department sent it to federal prosecutors in Louisiana.

U.S. Attorney David R. Dugas in Baton Rogue, La., said he has not decided whether to prosecute.

McGee and his attorney declined to comment.

The ice trucks had been sitting idle at Camp Shelby, a National Guard base just south of Hattiesburg, before the sheriff ordered them sent to the towns of Petal and Brooklyn on Sept. 4. McGee has said his deputies detained a National Guard soldier who tried to interfere.

Residents of Forrest County have circulated a petition in support of McGee, who has been in office since 1991, and some have collected money for his defense.

Rep. Bennie Thompson, D-Miss., a critic of the federal government's response to Katrina, has urged the Justice Department not to pursue the case.

Thompson said he is "convinced that there's not a jury in the state of Mississippi that would convict the sheriff for doing what he did under the circumstances."

Red Cross fires two managers in New Orleans

In a major shakeup of its relief operations in New Orleans, the American Red Cross on Friday dismissed two key supervisors as part of a wide-ranging inquiry into the improper diversion of relief supplies after Hurricane Katrina, a Red Cross official said.

The supervisors - volunteers, as are 95 percent of Red Cross personnel - were in charge of the organization's kitchens and shelters, which have assisted tens of thousands of Katrina's victims.

The move came a day after the interim president of the Red Cross said the organization was investigating accusations of impropriety, including possible criminal activity.

Several volunteers who had served in the area complained over the last four months that officials had ignored Red Cross rules, overrode efforts to establish procedures to keep track of relief supplies and interfered with internal investigations into the diversion of supplies.

Louisiana voters urged to send in absentee ballots

WASHINGTON - Louisiana residents scattered after Hurricane Katrina could still be eligible to vote at home, but they need to act promptly.

Displaced residents who are registered to vote in Louisiana and have not registered to vote in the state where they are living temporarily can check with the Louisiana Secretary of State's Office to learn about voting by absentee ballot, the U.S. Postal Service said Friday.

They can call the secretary of state's office at 1-800-883-2805 or find information on its Web site, www.sos.louisiana.gov

For parishes other than Orleans, primary elections are April 1, which means absentee ballots need to arrive by March 31, the post office said. It urged voters to mail those ballots by Monday.

For the April 22 New Orleans municipal election, absentee ballots must be received by the Orleans registrars office or the secretary of state's office by April 21. These ballots should be mailed by April 17, postal officials said.