Mercer court raises constables' bonds to $1 million

August 14, 2003|ANN R. HARNEY

HARRODSBURG - It's going to cost Mercer County constables more to be able to do their jobs.

Sixth District Constable James Rice appeared Tuesday before the Mercer County Fiscal Court and continued to maintain that state law allows him to pull motorists over and warn them if he sees them violating driving regulations.

When he refused to sit down with magistrates and try to come to a compromise, Magistrate Larry Peyton made the motion to increase constables' bonds from $10,000 to $1 million, and the court approved.

County Attorney Doug Greenburg researched the matter and said later Tuesday that the court can review the constables' bonds but must give the constables 10 days' notice.


Rice said the court was discriminating against him because after he was appointed, members of the court found out he is a convicted felon.

He said he was convicted on a felony theft charge in Lexington. His civil rights have been restored to him, including running for office and voting, but he cannot carry a weapon. He was appointed by Fiscal Court, but he has to run for election in November.

The court denied him and all Mercer County constables the right to have blue lights and sirens on their vehicles earlier this year. Magistrate Eddie Burton said he had reports that Rice was wrapping the white lights in blue cellophane.

Rice denied that, but said the back of his lights are blue so people will see him when he pulls a driver over. One person he stopped said the top of his lights were blue.

White lights have no authority in Kentucky

White lights have no authority in Kentucky, said Mercer County Sheriff Ralph Anderson and Harrodsburg Police Chief Ernie Kelty. Kelty and Anderson said Rice needs to be trained before he takes on the persona of a law enforcement officer. Both men said their opinions were not personal against Rice, and Kelty said he helped during the tornado that struck part of the county in May.

"My deputies and I had a talk with him," Anderson said. "We asked him to get some training they offer in Richmond."

Rice does not always dress in a police uniform. "I've gotten complaints that people thought he worked for me. I've told him what to do and he hasn't done it," said Anderson.

Asked about training, Rice said, "it is pending."

Magistrates looked surprised when Rice told them that police never stop anyone who is going just 5 mph over the speed limit. In fact, Rice said later in a telephone interview that he has heard police say, "Five is fine, but six and you're mine." Kelty and Anderson both said they had never heard that said and they had never said it.

An elected officer is not required to take training, but it would be in his best interest, Anderson and Kelty said. "He's assumed a tremendous amount of liability working without formal training as a police officer. ... He is not breaking any laws," Anderson said.

Rice said he drives a 1989 Pontiac 6000 with a four-cylinder engine. Witnesses say he has a magnetic sign on his door identifying him as a constable.

Rice said he has an identification number that allows him to write tickets, but Communications Supervisor Ruth Ann Bryant says he cannot run information about a vehicle until he has a contract with Central Dispatch, and to her knowledge, he doesn't have one.

Shannon Bucknell saw no identification Monday morning, only a car with white lights on top that followed her from Cottonwood subdivision north of Harrodsburg until she finally stopped her car on Tapp Road with her two young children inside.

He had his name on his T-shirt and some kind of badge on his belt

She got out of her car and went back to find out who he was. He had Rice written on his T-shirt and some kind of badge on his belt. He said he had stopped her because she had made an improper lane change and was speeding and he was concerned about the safety of her and her children.

"I was just trying to take my kids to school," Bucknell said. She said he got on his cell phone and made her think he was calling the police. She asked him who he was calling and he would not tell her. "I was upset and crying and my children were in the car, and I found out he was talking to his wife."

Rice told her she should have pulled over a long time before she did. In a telephone interview, he said he has a radar gun, but he is not certified to use it. He is confident the speedometer on his car is correct. He also has no proof the radar gun is calibrated.

He said on three occasions he has seen reckless driving and rather than pursue the vehicle, he has called the Harrodsburg Police Department and they responded twice. On the third call, police told Rice they were too busy.

While Kelty said officers would respond to any emergency call, he was not aware that Harrodsburg officers had responded to calls from Rice. The constable said he contacts police by calling 911.

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