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Most people suddenly find a way to pay

Some East Montgomery County residents received an unwelcome surprise on Wednesday afternoon when members of the Pct. 4 Constable’s Office, a.k.a. “Men in Black” showed up on their doorsteps during the trail run of a new method of warrant roundup.

Constable Rowdy Hayden’s Mobile Command Unit, parked in front of the East Montgomery County Community Center, was the hub of the operation as patrol units took stacks of outstanding warrants from the Splendora / Patton Village area and attempted to serve them.

The warrants were the final effort to collect payment for bad checks written to local merchants, or to collect fines and court costs owed to the Pct. 4 Justice of the Peace Court. When the officers found and identified a person with a warrant or warrants, that person was taken into custody and returned to the Mobile Command Unit where they had an opportunity to contact someone to pay the amount owed and prevent them from actually going to jail.

Amazingly, every person located was able to find some way to get a money order for the requisite amount. The only person who went to jail also paid the amount owed, but had outstanding warrants from the City of Oak Ridge North. Pct. 4 released him into the custody of Oak Ridge North Police.

Toward the end, some people who were not at home when deputies arrived had heard what was happening and begun arriving at the command unit to surrender themselves.

In all, 30 total cases were cleared and $3,620.90 was collected, according to Constable Hayden. Of that, almost $400 was restitution for local merchants.

Hayden said they also learned some of those with warrants had new addresses, which will require further investigation.

“We hope to start the practice about once a week,” Hayden said. “This was a trial run and it went well.”

Just as on Wednesday, they plan to set up in various parts of the large precinct and concentrate on warrants from those specific areas, and work on an increased number of warrants.

Pct. 4 Judge James Metts provide a clerk for the effort and also stopped by to check out the operation first hand. Metts said he was glad to see Hayden’s crew help fulfill the promise he made to local merchants to do something about bad checks.

“We have hard working business owners in our community who take checks with the assumption that they’re good, and then they can’t get their money,” Metts said. “If they can’t take care of it by sending out a letter, the merchants can bring the hot checks to the court and we’re honored to take care of it for them at no additional cost.”

Faye Sitton, owner of Sitton’s Quick Stop, was among the merchants forced to take bad checks to the judge’s office after people were notified and refused to pay. Sitton also stopped by the Mobile Command Unit to see her tax dollars in action.

“I’m very impressed,” Sitton said.

After 22 years and many insufficient checks, Sitton’s business, which is a feed store and Exxon gas station, takes few personal checks. Even so, checks are written on closed accounts or on accounts that are overdrawn and sometimes she cannot compel people to pay.

Sitton praised the overall performance of Hayden’s administration and she said she felt fortunate to have the Splendora Police Department as well.

“They’re all concerned and if we need something, they’re right there,” Sitton said.

Pct. 4 Commissioner Ed Rinehart also stopped by to see the trial run of the mobile warrant roundup. Metts and Hayden said Rinehart’s support has been a vital part of their recent successful initiatives.

“We couldn’t do what we do in my office without Commissioner Rinehart,” Metts said. “He’s been very supportive of both offices and stops in on a regular basis to make sure we have everything we need.”

Like Metts, Commissioner Rinehart was impressed with what he saw on Wednesday.

“It’s a good deal,” Rinehart said. “Bad checks hurt our merchants – especially in this economy.”
“The majority of them are small business owners and one bad check may take what they made for the whole day,” he said.

The Commissioner said he knew some people were in dire straits and believed that somehow justified writing the checks, but he said rather than place a burden on the business owner, people should tell someone they need help.

“If you’re hungry, say something,” Rinehart said. “I guarantee someone would help.”

“I’d certainly help someone in that position, to get them connected with a food bank or something,” he said. “Just don’t write that bad check.”

Those who wound up in handcuffs on Wednesday had at least three chances to take care of their debts and had failed to do so.

Hayden urges residents who owe fines, court costs and payment for insufficient funds checks to take care of their business so they are not arrested in front of their friends and family.

“By the time it’s in our hands, it’s too late,” Hayden said.

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