By DON FLETCHER
News Staff Writer
One of the most significant things to evolve from the June 4 meeting between local ministers, city officials and local law enforcement was the criticism leveled by Atmore’s and Escambia County’s top law enforcement officers at the way the Federal Bureau of Investigation handled a recent standoff with a North Carolina murder suspect.
Several hours of negotiations failed to spur a May 20 surrender by Tobby Wiggins, who was shot by FBI agents when he ran from the Liberty Street trailer in which he had been hiding and rounded its back side.
Wiggins died at the scene. The shooting itself wasn’t captured on video, but a brief clip shown on a Mobile television station indicates that at least four shots were fired.
The shooting, coupled with the recent killing by police officers in Minneapolis, Minn. of a suspect who was already in custody, stirred a degree of racial unrest within the city, a fact that neither Atmore Police Chief Chuck Brooks nor Escambia County Sheriff Heath Jackson was happy with.
The Rev. Harold Askew asked for the difference in the fugitive shooting and the peaceful resolution of an April 21 situation in which a heavily armed local man barricaded himself inside his parents’ home for nearly 12 hours before he was subdued by an Alabama Law Enforcement Agency SWAT team.
“Several people were ready to riot that night,” Askew told Brooks. “They were ready to tear this city apart, but I talked them down. I told them they need to find out the circumstances before they go out and start a riot, so I’d like you to inform us whose decision it was to kill one man and not the other.”
That was the lead-in the police chief needed to vent his anger over the Wiggins incident.
“I think you deserve to know that,” he answered. “In the situation that occurred off McRae Street, I was in charge; in the situation that occurred at Liberty Street, a federal agency was in charge. My agency and Sheriff Jackson’s agency had no knowledge of what was going on until after they called us, shortly before the shooting, and told us they needed help with crowd control because a large crowd was coming up.
“There was a lot of miscommunication. I can tell you that Sheriff Jackson and I were hotter than a $2 pistol, and we voiced our displeasure with the federal government about how they acted. I hate to throw anybody under the bus, but (the Wiggins shooting) was not my decision, not my call. After it was over with, I told them just how I felt.”
Jackson agreed that he was not happy when he learned of the situation and the subsequent shooting of the suspect.
“I’ll tell you right now, y’all would have had to pray for me if y’all had been there that night when I let loose on the feds,” he said. “Chief Brooks was trying to fan me, and I was trying to fan him, we were both so mad with them.”
The sheriff, who is experienced in such situations, said he was at a Brewton dry cleaner’s when he learned of the standoff in Atmore.
“I came on down here, but by the time I got here, it was done,” he said. “I’m not second-guessing what anybody did, that’s not my job. But I will say that for 10 years I was the lead hostage negotiator for the Escambia County (Fla.) Sheriff’s Office. Talking to people gets you a lot farther.”
Meanwhile, the FBI’s Mobile Division remained tight-lipped about its internal investigation into the shooting death of Tobby Wiggins, even refusing to reveal whether or not the results of the probe would be made public.
“You are of course aware there is a review of the situation ongoing so there will be no further comment at this time,” said FBI Public Affairs Specialist Tommy Loftis.