JACKSON — Today, Governor Tate Reeves announced a group of diverse, experienced Mississippians to help in the mission of finding a new leader for the Mississippi Department of Corrections (MDOC). Holding a press conference in the Governor's press briefing room, Governor Reeves was joined by the group, led by Vicksburg Mayor George Flaggs, Jr., that will assist in a nationwide search to provide a recommendation for the MDOC Commissioner.
"We cannot rush the critical job of finding a new Commissioner for the Department of Corrections. We must get this right for the people of Mississippi. I am turning to my fellow Mississippians to help me in this mission," said Governor Tate Reeves.
The Honorable George Flaggs, Jr. is currently serving his second term as mayor of the City of Vicksburg. He first took the oath of office in 2013. Previously, Mayor Flaggs served as a member of the House of Representatives from 1988 to 2013. He served as Chair of the Corrections Committee and served on several other committees, including Appropriations, Banking and Financial Services, Constitution, Legislative Budget Committee, Public Health and Human Services and Rules.
Other members of the search group (in alphabetical order):
Retired Sheriff Greg Waggoner has over 43 years of law enforcement experience, serving 20 of those years in corrections. He retired with the rank of Captain and ran for Sheriff of Leake County in 1999. He has served as Leake County Sheriff for 20 years, recently retiring from that office. Sheriff Waggoner has a Bachelors degree from Mississippi College in Administration of Justice.
District Attorney Jody Owens currently serves in the Hinds County District Attorney's Office. He previously served as Managing Attorney of the Mississippi office of the Southern Poverty Law Center. In this role, he has brought civil rights cases throughout Mississippi. In his legal career, he has tried civil and criminal jury trials. He has experience litigating cases several states, including Florida, Louisiana, and Mississippi both in state and federal court. Previously, Owens served as a Hinds County Special Prosecutor. He is a graduate of Jackson State University and received his law degree from Howard University Law School. Jody is a Lieutenant in the United States Navy Reserves and has proudly served his country for over seven years.
District Attorney Joel Smith currently serves in the Harrison County District Attorney's Office. In his duty as District Attorney, Smith prosecutes and defends on behalf of the State, in all courts of the County. In his legal career, he has experience trying criminal and civil cases.
Kathy Henry recently served for over 5 years on the Parole Board, appointed by Governor Phil Bryant. Prior to that, she served 20 years on the Governor's Juvenile Justice Advisory Committee, appointed by Governor Kirk Fordice and reappointed by Governor Haley Barbour. Henry was also appointed by Governor Barbour as Mississippi's Representative on the National Juvenile Justice Advisor Committee. For eight years, she worked for Congressman Chip Pickering, where her duties required her to work with the U.S. Department of Justice and the Mississippi Department of Corrections.
Sheriff Steve Rushing currently serves as Sheriff of Lincoln County, having recently been elected to serve his fourth term. He began as Deputy Sheriff in Lincoln County in 1996, moving up to Captain of Investigations before becoming Sheriff in 2006. During the last 13 years as Sheriff, he has been a member of the National Sheriff’s Association, a member of the Mississippi Sheriff’s Association where he was elected twice to serve as President, and currently is serving on the legislative committee of the Mississippi Sheriff’s Association. Sheriff Rushing is a graduate of Copiah-Lincoln Community College and holds a degree in criminal justice from the University of Southern Mississippi.
Judge Sean J. Tindell currently serves on the Mississippi Court of Appeals. Previously, Judge Tindell served in the Mississippi Senate from 2012 until his appointment to the bench. He was Chair of the Senate Judiciary A Committee and Vice Chair of the Senate Tourism Committee. From 2002 to 2007, he was an assistant district attorney for the Second Circuit District of Harrison, Hancock and Stone counties. Judge Tindell entered private practice in 2007, also serving as a prosecutor for the City of Biloxi and as city attorney for the City of Diamondhead.
Governor Reeves also announced the Interim Commissioner for the Department of Corrections during the press conference.
"While we work to find the right fit for our state and our people, we need an experienced leader who can step in and step up to restore order in the short term. I have asked Mayor Tommy Taylor to serve as Interim Commissioner for the Department of Corrections, and I am glad to announce that he has accepted this critical task. Mayor Taylor has proven his dedication to serving our citizens—today he is stepping up to serve Mississippi once again," said Governor Reeves.
The Honorable Tommy Taylor has a long and storied career of serving Mississippi. Before serving as Mayor of Boyle, Taylor was a member of the House of Representatives. He served as Chair of the Corrections Committee and served on several other committees, including Judiciary B, Judiciary En Blanc, and Military Affairs. Mayor Taylor's service to Mississippi also includes time serving as a District Attorney Investigator, Chief Deputy Sheriff, city police officer, Prison Warden and Election Commissioner in Bolivar County from 1985 to 1987.
During the press conference, Governor Reeves disclosed that on his first day in office he instructed the Department of Public Safety to assign an officer from the Mississippi Bureau of Investigations to bring order and root out the underlying issues at the State Penitentiary at Parchman and throughout the Department of Corrections. Stationed at Parchman, the officer is tasked with uncovering any criminal activity—whether it be conducted by inmates or correctional staff—and providing a full, independent investigation.
"The ultimate responsibility for violence always lies with those who carry it out. But in this moment, we must ask if there is more that we can do to eliminate the opportunity for such actions. Can we do more to provide for peace? I believe we can. To do so, we must get to the heart of the problem. And it starts with bringing order to Parchman," Governor Reeves said.