GULFPORT, Miss. (AP) — The 19-year-old accused of killing a veteran Mississippi police officer smiled and hummed as he was led into court Wednesday but was wearing a knee-length sleeveless vest that the sheriff said is for inmates considered suicide risks.
Darian (DEHR-uhn) Atkinson told Justice Court Judge Brandon Ladner he doesn’t know if he needs a public defender because he hasn’t been able to call his family. The Sun Herald reported .
“I got to get on the phone. … I got to talk to my folks,” said Atkinson, who was in wrist and ankle shackles and wearing a green garment Harrison County Sheriff Troy Peterson called a “suicide vest.” Such garments, also called anti-suicide smocks, are designed to make them difficult to tear or otherwise fashion into a noose.
Atkinson was in the Harrison County jail’s courtroom for his initial appearance on a charge of capital murder in the death of 57-year-old Biloxi Police Patrolman Robert McKeithen (muh-KEETH-en), who was shot Sunday in the department’s parking lot.
His mother, Pamela Broger, told The Associated Press on Tuesday that her son had been having mental health problems in recent months. She said she had to call police to her home because of him.
“There is some truth to that,” Biloxi Police Chief John Miller told reporters Tuesday after a prayer vigil for McKeithen.
Broger also said officers told her they couldn’t do anything because her son hadn’t hurt anyone.
“That’s probably not what was said exactly,” Miller said. He did not elaborate.
Ladner scheduled a hearing Friday to decide whether Atkinson needs a court-appointed attorney.
Atkinson’s 21-year-old brother, wearing an orange and white jail jumpsuit, told the judge he’ll hire his own lawyer. The judge said Davian Atkinson, who is charged as an accessory after the fact, is accused of driving his brother to Wiggins, where Darian Atkinson was arrested Monday, and letting him make phone calls.
If convicted, Davian Atkinson could face up to 20 years in prison, Harrison County Prosecutor Herman Cox said.