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Cop spends own money to feed Wellston jail inmates

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WELLSTON, MO (KTVI)-- The Wellston City Jail is open again after a police officer spent his own money to buy food for prisoners through the weekend.  Wellston Police Chief G. Thomas Walker shut down the jail Wednesday night and released five prisoners held on misdemeanor charges when the city failed to provide funds to buy food.

"We didn't have food for them and we don't want to violate anyone's rights when they are here," explained Chief Walker.  Walker said it costs about one hundred dollars a month to feed 75 to 140 people a month who are generally held for short periods of time.  "We're not running a restaurant here," said Walker.  The meals generally consist of juice and a hot breakfast sandwich in the morning, cold cut sandwiches and sometimes chips for lunch and dinner.

The donated food allowed the department to reopen the jail Thursday night.  By midday Friday there were three prisoners confined in the jail.

"I've made several requests over the past couple of months for food and they are telling me it is the mayor that is holding it up," Walker said.

Wellston Mayor Linda Whitfield did not respond to messages left on her phone and no one answered knocks on her front door Friday.

The news brought a number of offers to donate funds to buy food.  Gary Brockman, the owner of the oldest operating business in Wellston, said he could not believe the jail  was closed.  ". Things are bad enough down here . We've got a very minimal police department that does the best they can do, but you can't have people run through Wellston thinking they can get pulled over and say 'see you later,' " the owner of Atlas Truck Sales said.

Brockman and his brother who owns Brock Auto Parts offered to buy the food.  The chief said he might have to take them up on their offer if he can't get the city to start providing the funds to buy the food next week.

Jail food is not the only issue.  Police officers who are paid less than $12.00 and hour must buy their own guns, ammunition and uniforms.  Chief Walker spoke of one officer who bought five hundred seventy-five dollars worth of ammunition to use in a special firearms instruction training course so he could train his fellow Wellston officers.  The city has yet to reimburse that officer.

Chief Walker said he thinks the city can afford to pay these bills and give officers a raise.  "I do believe revenues have increased and I do know crime in the city of Wellston is down and it's my job to keep the officers motivated  to serve the citizens and to give them the service and protection that they deserve regardless of what is going on internally in the city."

Council member Sam Shannon said he was surprised to learn the jail had been closed due to lack of food.  "This is not acceptable," he said adding council members were unaware of the closing until after it happened.  Shannon thinks he can muster a four council member majority help settle the financial disputes.

Chief Walker said he has not had a formal budget since the 2010-11 fiscal year.  His staff has not had a raise in five years.  He said Mayor Whitfield  prevented him from presenting his proposed budget to the city council or to ask them for approval so he could request cost-free used police equipment from Missouri state agencies.

"I've been told I'm not allowed to go up there ( to Jefferson City)  anymore to pick up property the last two or three times I tried to go up there," Walker explained.  The department had a chance for a U.S. Justice Department grant  to pay for half the cost of bullet proof vests, but he was denied an opportunity to seek the council's approval.

Council member Linda Garner is organizing a petition to seek a state audit of the Wellston City books.

Chief Walker is hopeful he will be allowed to present a proposed budget to the council at the next meeting, Wednesday August 7.

Betsey.bruce@tvstl.com
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