Voters at Tuesday’s southside forum wanted assurance schools will get the resources and support they deserve, along with solid plans to reduce blight and cultivate businesses.
They also made no attempts to hide frustrations with the State Attorney’s Office, and incumbent candidate State Attorney Willie Meggs’ decision not to prosecute a Leon County sheriff deputy’s wife in connection with a 2010 crash that took the life of 13-year-old Florida State University School student Darielle Copeland.
The forum, led by Leon County Commissioner Bill Proctor, attracted about 75 residents who wanted a discussion about the proposed extension to the half-penny sales tax for Leon County Schools and hear local candidates share plans to enhance the southside — an area Proctor and others say often goes neglected. However, only a fraction on those running for local office showed up. Other candidates sent representatives.
Jamaal Rose was one of several residents who lined up to pose a question. He wanted to know if the State Attorney’s Office was willing to reopen the case involving Darielle and Melanie F. Humphries, the wife of a Leon County deputy, who crashed into Fudge’s car. Rose said a neutral agency should be the one to lead the investigation.
“I asked that question to see if the state attorney’s position would be truthful and honest enough that they would be willing to open an independent, unbiased investigation from a neutral agency, considering they found enough evidence to press charges,” Rose said. “I felt it was important because the people who are going for that office need to look us in our face and tell us how they feel.
Frankie Fudge, Darielle’s mother, sat in the audience, shaking her head in disapproval and disappointment when Assistant State Attorney Jack Campbell spoke on the issue. Meggs came to the event earlier in the afternoon but left before the forum began.
“I don’t know the facts of this case,” Campbell said. “It would be irresponsible for me to say one way or another.”
Darielle died two weeks after the crash, Fudge said. Humphries was cited for careless driving and failure to stop at a traffic signal. In February, Meggs told the Tallahassee Democrat he stands by his decision because there was no evidence of reckless driving so there was no vehicular homicide. He said speeding and running a red light is not enough to rise to the level of reckless driving.
State Attorney candidate Pete Williams said he would be in favor of re-opening the case. “This was vehicular homicide,” he said. “Any court would uphold a conviction.”
Other issues discussed at the forum included support of the arts on the southside and at the Southside Arts Complex, the location of the forum’s venue. Other hot-button issues were the debunked biomass proposal several years ago and criminal justice reform.
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