The large extended McMullion family gathered at their Atlantic Beach place on a recent Sunday evening, Sept. 21, for a cookout — a typical get-together at the old family spot in the Black Pine neighborhood near Mayport. While Jacqueline McMullion was inside the bungalow, the family watched as three Jacksonville Sheriff’s Office cruisers pulled up to the house.
A week-and-a-half earlier, McMullion had been featured in the pages of this magazine [Cover Story, “Life in a Police State,” Susan Cooper Eastman, Sept. 10] complaining about police tactics in Black Pine. She hadn’t been arrested herself, but as a lifelong resident of the four-block-wide historically African-American neighborhood (platted in 1921 during segregation as a development for black homeowners) and someone who spent a lot of time in her white wicker chair on that same front porch watching the JSO cruise through her neighborhood like an occupying army, she’d felt compelled to speak out.
She did this even though she feared retaliation. She initially agreed to go on the record with Folio Weekly, but then later had second thoughts. She feared that having her name attached to the story would generate heat — both for her and her family members, many of whom live in the area. She ultimately decided to go forward, reassured by the Southern Christian Leadership Conference that her being out front and public would be protection in itself.
And now the cops were here, three of them, to serve an arrest warrant on the 47-year-old, who is disabled by a heart condition and lives off Social Security disability checks.
Her crime? An unpaid two-year-old citation for driving with a suspended, canceled or revoked license. (The warrant itself was issued in June 2013, but the police had only bothered to act on it now.) They had a warrant for her daughter, too, for a ticket she had received when the police staked out the McMullion home during a family funeral in August.
That Sunday evening, with three JSO cruisers at her house and her brother telling her to put on something warm because the cops wanted to talk to her down at the station, McMullion’s fears of retaliation seemed legitimate. What else would have brought the police to her door except to punish her for speaking out?
She refused to come out of the house. The brother told the cops they needed to talk to her lawyer.
“I was afraid,” McMullion says. “I don’t want to deal with JSO by myself. I’m afraid of JSO.”
“Nobody is fooled by what is going on,” says Opio Sokoni, president of the Jacksonville chapter of the SCLC, who organized a community meeting with the JSO in July to talk about police harassment. “We don’t expect an honest answer when their expectation is to intimidate. We don’t expect an answer when talking to somebody about intimidation. But nobody is fooled by this.”
JSO spokesperson Lauri-Ellen Smith points out that once a warrant is issued, the police are required to serve it, no matter how unimportant or non-violent the charge. She says the JSO asked the Atlantic Beach Police Department, which also patrols Black Pine, to serve the warrant three times, but the ABPD never did.
And yes, Smith says, the cops showed up after Sheriff John Rutherford went on a community walk through Black Pine last month, during which McMullion spoke to him. Afterward, McMullion called that event a “stage show.”
“Let’s face it,” Smith wrote in an email, “had it been done before the walk you’d be saying it was intentional since Mrs. McMullion wanted to talk to the Sheriff about her concerns.”
The police dispatched three cruisers because they wanted to make sure there was a female officer on hand to search McMullion for weapons, Smith writes. “That’s why the number of cars may have been more than it normally would be.”
In the end, McMullion wasn’t arrested — an act of mercy, Smith says, after the officers on scene were told by a family member that she was in fragile health, and that he was concerned about the effect the arrest would have on her. “SO THE OFFICERS LEFT,” Smith writes, “after strongly advising that she take care of the matter ASAP. She was not taken to jail.”
This past Sunday, Sept. 28, McMullion spent four hours at the Duval County Jail taking care of the warrant; quashing it required her to pay a $358 bond. She’ll also have to pay for the citation — and she’s now not sure how she’ll pay for her doctor’s bills and medications. That’s why she ignored the citation in the first place.
Jackie’s daughter also tired to take care of her warrant, but the bail bondsmen she approached said it hadn’t been entered in the system yet.
“Nobody is fooled,” says Sokoni. “Here again, you are talking about how to police should operate in a black neighborhood. This is really what this is all about. They want to play ping-pong about this. Why are they delivering this warrant now?”
Sokoni believes it’s only because McMullion dared to come forward and criticize two JSO officers whom she and others say have been harassing the residents of Black Pine throughout this year.
“The time is up. The time is over when you can go into black neighborhoods and do whatever,” the SCLC’s Sokoni says. “Those days are over.”