No one knows better the danger that a tense circumstance can present than police in the United States. Constantly under pressure to control people who are guaranteed rights that provide them a wide latitude of no control, the scenarios that citizens can present range from the mundane to sheer terror, even for a trained professional. With that thought, we continue to reflect on moments in the history of law enforcement we wish we could get back, the sacrifices of those that have paid the ultimate price on our behalf.
The town of Mize is exactly what you would expect to find in Central Mississippi. Deeply entrenched in farm and woodland, the town has a population of 385, and serves as a central location for many more that spread out among the pines, dogwoods, magnolias, and oak trees that fill out the surrounding area. Mize is home to the Mississippi Watermelon Festival, put on by the Town of Mize Volunteer Fire Department, and has become a major regional event. And being a small town, Mize is a place where everybody knows everybody, and many people that grew up there remain lifelong friends. With backcountry charm, and plenty of forest, Mize is a hunter’s paradise, where some of the largest deer found east Mississippi River call home. Mississippi is also home to big turkeys, wild hogs, rabbits, and too many birds to list. Any wildlife personnel will tell you that when harvest season arrives, all that work of educating, training, and re-iterating rules to hunters goes out the door for some. Short cuts are available at every turn in a hunter’s path to harvesting an animal, and many times there’s no one there to look over their shoulder to ensure they follow all the rules. However, officers in this field are adept at following the tracks of wildlife crime back to the perpetrators. Wildlife law enforcement remains to be some of our most technically proficient public safety personnel in reading clues at crime scenes, identifying firearms in crimes, and linking these details back to responsible parties. It is because of these two strengths, friendship, and the outdoors, that we discuss our next two officers.
Conservation Officer James Wood & Corporal James Bounds
Conservation Officer James Wood was an officer of the Mississippi Department of Wildlife, Fisheries, and Parks (unknown term of duty). Like most officers involved in wildlife, he worked out of his house on duty days, with responsibility over a large area in the south-central portion he resided within. On Sunday, October 21st, 1984, Officer Wood had cited a man for violation while hunting during the early part of the day. The criminal was upset over the citation, and spent the rest of the day asking people around the area where Officer Wood’s home was. Again, since it’s not uncommon for officers involved in wildlife to work from their home, it’s not suspicious that a hunter would be asking for the address of such an officer. At approximately 10:00 PM the criminal made his way onto Officer Wood’s property. He walked up to the front door and knocked, which was greeted by Officer Wood’s wife. The hunter asked for Officer Wood by name, and as Officer Wood approached the door, the hunter aimed and fired.
Corporal James Bounds was a 20-year veteran of the Mississippi Highway Patrol, and at age 43 was far too young to be contemplating retirement. He was a long-time friend of Officer Wood, and was working a late night outside of Hattiesburg, when he was dispatched to the scene of a shooting northwest of Mize. One can only imagine what Corporal Bounds was thinking at the time of the call, but he drove swiftly to the scene, and helped set up a perimeter around the immediate area. In law enforcement, you see a lot of bad days for others, but when it visits you in a direct way, the adrenaline mixed with raw emotion can create physiological reactions that teeter the edge of extreme for the human body. And such was the case for Corporal Bounds, who entered the scene once it was secure with medical personnel at the home. Corporal Bounds approached the home, witnessing the aftermath and at the same was made aware that his good friend, Officer Wood, had died. We’ll never truly know how the scene looked from Corporal Bounds view, but his reaction is a good indicator of the massive internal stress he was facing in that moment as the entire picture began to unfold. Corporal Bounds suffered an intense and massive heart attack, losing the ability to breathe at the news of his fallen friend, gasping “What about his family?” Corporal Bounds died on scene.
It is the kind of scene that no one ever wants to face, not only the death of a law enforcement officer, but the death of a friend. In cold, intense, in your face fashion. It is the kind of the scene that every law enforcement officer fears their family may face. That the decisions they make on the job, follow them home. It was the worst of the worst scenes that Sunday, October 21st, 1984, when we lost Officer James Wood and Corporal James Bounds in one of the most remote corners of the US. It is because of this unfathomable scenario that we remember not only these two fine officers, but their families, who have had to live this story every day since. Officer Wood is survived by his wife. Corporal Bounds is survived by his wife and three children. We lost two pillars to a community that day, but we also lost two husbands. We lost a lifetime of memories. We lost some of the fabric of our community. We thank the Wood and Bounds families for their commitment to their community, and we grieve with them in their loss.
In memory of Conservation Officer James Wood & Corporal James Bounds.