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Excessive 911 calls lead to arrest

Authorities: People outside not an emergency

PARKERSBURG — A Parkersburg man was arrested Friday after he defied law enforcement’s instructions to stop calling 911 to report people out walking and driving.

Thomas Michael Jamison Jr., 44, of 409 Crescent St., Parkersburg, was charged with falsely reporting an emergency Friday evening. According to a criminal complaint filed in Wood County Magistrate Court, he called 911 five times in eight minutes “complaining about people being out and about and he was stuck at his residence.” A Wood County deputy sheriff responded to his residence and told him to stop calling 911 unless there was an actual emergency.

Moments later, the man called 911, identified himself, said he wasn’t allowed to call and hung up, the complaint says.

“They’re 100 feet down the roadway; he’s calling 911 again,” Chief Deputy Robert Sims said.

Jamison was arraigned by Magistrate Joe Kuhl and released on a $500 bond.

It was that last call that resulted in the charge, Sims said, although he emphasized the issue didn’t constitute an emergency.

The stay-at-home order issued last week by West Virginia Gov. Jim Justice instructs people to limit movements outside their residences to essential needs as efforts to slow the spread of the novel coronavirus continue. But it allows a broad range of activity under that classification, including picking up food or medicine, caring for or supporting friends and family members and exercising, provided people keep at least 6 feet of distance between each other.

“It’s not like we are locked down in our houses,” Sims said. “We’re in the midst of a state of emergency, and yet we still have all these liberties and freedoms.”

People who have or believe they have COVID-19 should stay home except to receive medical care, he said.

If people are concerned someone is violating the order, Sims encouraged them to look at the guidance issued by the governor’s office (www.wv.gov), Mid-Ohio Valley Health Department (movhd.com) and federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (www.cdc.gov).

“If they have a question, they can call (a non-emergency number). Don’t call 911,” he said. “We’ll try and answer questions as best we can.”

Wood County 911 Director Rick Woodyard said the center has received “very few calls” like the one that set off Friday’s chain of events.

“Life, limb, property is more or less what you should call 911 for,” he said. If calling about matters that aren’t emergencies, “you’re just tying up emergency lines for someone who might actually need it.”

Parkersburg Police Chief Joe Martin said his department has received complaints about people not following the stay-at-home order.

“We will respond to those complaints if … our numbers allow us to do it and call volume allows us to do it,” he said.

While officers have the authority to place someone under arrest for violating the order, that’s not the goal, Martin said. In most cases, “we’re just going to encourage them to do what’s right,” he said.

Sometimes additional action is required, Martin said, such as last week when people continued to play basketball at the courts at City Park, even after an officer told them they were doing so in too large a number. Mayor Tom Joyce had city employees remove the hoops from the goals.

Washington County Sheriff Larry Mincks said his office hasn’t received any emergency calls alleging violations of Ohio’s stay-at-home order. If they did, it would be handled the same way as the incident in Wood County, with officers explaining it was not an emergency and instructing the people not to call again.

“If they are still disobeying the rule, we would would take enforcement action,” Mincks said.

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