Law enforcement officials hope to soon have a formal statement from the victims in a viral video that shows a worker at an Oktibbeha County campsite threatening a black couple with a gun.
Mississippi 16th Circuit District Attorney Scott Colom said at a Thursday afternoon press conference that any potential prosecution is currently waiting on a formal statement from Jessica and Franklin Richardson.
The Richardsons are two of the subjects of a video from a Sunday incident at the Kampgrounds of America campsite at the Oktibbeha County Lake. In the video, a white woman — who Colom identified Thursday as Ruby Howell — holds what appears to be a revolver while telling the Richardsons to leave the campsite.
Howell has since been fired from the Oktibbeha Kampgrounds.
Sheriff Steve Gladney said the Oktibbeha County Sheriff’s Office contacted the Richardsons and asked them to call his department. He said Franklin Richardson contacted OCSO on Tuesday.
“After speaking with him for a length of time, we asked if he and his wife would come to the Oktibbeha County Sheriff’s Office so we could do a report and gather more information and open an investigation,” Gladney said. “At that time, he informed us that he didn’t want to do that until he spoke to his attorney.”
OSCO contacted Colom’s office on Tuesday to advise him of the situation, Gladney said, and provided him with the video.
Colom: Incident ‘does not reflect the people of this community’
The video, which has gone viral on social media, shows Howell holding a gun while she tells the Richardsons to leave the KOA campsite. The Richardsons were at the site with their dog, and Howell claimed that they needed to have a permit because the campsite was under “private ownership.” Jessica Richardson, who narrates the video while recording, says they weren’t aware they needed a permit and would have left if asked.
Kampgrounds of America announced on Tuesday that the Starkville site terminated Howell. In an accompanying statement, Kampgrounds of America noted that it “does not condone the use of a firearm in any manner on our properties or those owned and operated by our franchises.”
However, Colom on Thursday said that he’s not sure whether firearm access is restricted on the property. He added that, even if it was, Mississippi’s open carry laws would make it difficult to pursue charges based on Howell’s possession of the gun.
The video has garnered national attention and been viewed hundreds of thousands of times online. Colom, during the conference, said the incident has painted an “unfair, inaccurate” picture of Oktibbeha County.
“The Oktibbeha County I know is loving and welcoming to most people, even people who are not from here,” he said. “It’s a place where people allow you to fish on private land. I think this is an isolated incident that does not reflect the people of this community.”
‘They’ve got to have direct statements’
Officials had not received a statement from the Richardsons as of Thursday’s press conference. However, Colom says he understands the delay and wants to give the couple time to discuss matters with their attorney. He said he’s hopeful that they will reach a decision soon.
Colom said he’s gotten about 50 emails from people asking if his office is pursuing a criminal investigation. Whether one moves forward, he said, will rely heavily on if the Richardsons submit a statement.
While the Richardsons have talked about the experience to media outlets — including that Howell allegedly pointed the gun at them before they started videoing the incident — Colom said that might not cut it in court.
“The county is not going to be able to rely on hearsay statements made to media,” Colom said. “They’ve got to have direct statements that they can refer to themselves to go forward. Franklin and Jessica Richardson have to decide if that’s a step they want to take, with a criminal investigation.”
At the moment, Colom said, it appears that any charges in the case would be misdemeanors.
“Looking at the video and looking at what they’ve reported to have occurred, you have two potential misdemeanors that I’ve identified,” Colom said. “One is brandishing a weapon. Another is simple assault by threats — physical menace. You can commit a simple assault just by posturing or acting in a way to put someone in reasonable fear of bodily injury or assault.”
According to Mississippi Code Section 97-3-7, simple assault by threat of physical menace is punishable by up to six months in jail and a $500 fine.
Colom said OSCO has gotten a statement from Howell detailing her version of events and why she used the gun. He said he didn’t want to discuss it publicly at the press conference.
“She has given her reasoning,” he said. “I don’t want to comment on whether I believe it to be credible or not.”
Alex Holloway was formerly a reporter with The Dispatch.
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