July 10, 2014

'I am a good person': Felony plea costs Alorton mayor her office, sheriff's job

Alorton Mayor JoAnn Reed pleaded guilty Thursday to a felony for causing another to bring contraband into the Alorton jail in February 2013, where her niece was being held on a battery charge -- a move that will cost her the mayor's office and her Sheriff's Department job, but no prison time.

Reed received two years of probation, 60 hours of community service and must undergo drug treatment in exchange for her guilty plea.

Reed, 56, was elected mayor 14 months ago and worked for the St. Clair County Sheriff's Department for 28 years. She called Thursday one of the saddest days of her life.

"Besides my mother's death, this is the hardest thing I have had to deal with," she said.

Steve Sallerson, the prosecutor on the case, told Chief Judge John Baricevic during a conference hearing before the actual hearing that an Alorton police officer was dispatched to a battery call at a home where Reed's niece, Jennifer Harris was.

Harris was arrested, and when the officer returned to the Alorton Police Department with Harris, Reed and Harris' mother were at the station.

"(The officer) put Harris in a jail cell. Reed and Harris' mother were given an opportunity to see her," Sallerson said. He also argued against ordering drug treatment for Reed as a condition of probation. He said he felt it inappropriate for the case.

But Reed's lawyer, Mike Mettis, who works with the Scott Rosenblum law firm in St. Louis, disagreed. Mettis noted Reed's long service with the Sheriff's Department and in the community.

"And we're not talking about her bringing in a weapon or drugs. We're talking about her bringing a cellphone to the girl to use I presume to occupy her time while she was in jail," Mettis said.

Both lawyers agreed Harris made one Facebook post and the victim of the battery saw it and called the police to report it.

Reed was initially charged with two counts of official misconduct and one count of causing another to bring contraband into a penal institution. The two official misconduct charges were dropped in exchange for the guilty plea accepted by Baricevic. The drug treatment was related to use of pain killers following surgery.

Reed was subdued, sometimes whispering, and apologized to the people she let down.

"It is an unfortunate situation for me. I have been told by numerous officers that bringing money, cellphones and cigarettes into the jail is common practice. I have three videos of each," Reed said. "I am a good person and the people who really know me will tell anybody that. My downfall is always trying to help somebody. I have lived my life trying to help others and yes, I will continue to try to help. That's who I am."

She said she does not know what she is going to do without her job. She earned $27,000 a year at the St. Clair County Sheriff's Department and $15,000 a year as mayor of Alorton. Without her job at the Sheriff's Department, Reed also loses her health insurance, something she said she badly needs. She also said she is facing some additional surgery. Reed said she is a single mother with two daughters and a granddaughter who she helps to provide for.

Reed has lived in Alorton 50 years. Her father still lives in the house where she grew up on North 42nd Street. He and a handful of supporters were with Reed in the courtroom.

She said she has worked all of her life to get the job as mayor of Alorton. Reed said she has to believe that God has other plans for her.

"I feel God has a new direction for my life. I have to let go and let God," she said.

Reed is the latest Alorton leader to become a convicted felon. Former Mayor Randy McCallum is serving federal prison time on illegal drug and corruption charges. Members of his administration, former police chief Thomas Cummings and Street Superintendent Ron Cummings, were also convicted of federal crimes and were forced out of their jobs.

Reed said she hopes the village will continue to move in the right direction.

"I want them to work hard to help the citizens of Alorton and especially the children. And, I do not want there to be any corruption," she said. "I have sown a good seed in this community and one day it will harvest."

Reed said the people of Alorton did not have access to computers or Internet services, but she stepped up to do something about that.

"With the help of Sen. James Clayborne, we created a resource center, with six computers. The East St. Louis unemployment office is closed. So people who are looking for a job would have to travel to Belleville. Many of them do not have transportation to do that. With computers right here, they can learn how to download email and apply for jobs online," Reed said.

"My record of community service is all built around the youth. Literally, the children have been my foundation. They are the central part of my agenda. In my opinion, black communities do not incorporate the youth in budget planning as much as they need to. An idle mind is the devil's workshop. We have to train them while they are young. They have to know they are important," Reed said.

Baricevic, before sentencing Reed to two years probation said, "There's no question good people make bad decisions, good people do stupid things, good people don't always look far enough down the road as to consequences." He said Reed's time at the Sheriff's Department should have given her sufficient knowledge to know the actions were not appropriate.

Four local pastors sent letters of support for Reed and touted the exemplary community work she has done and was doing.

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