Tire Dump Man Found Guilty

Earl Brown has been found guilty of both criminal charges in connection with a massive tire dump near Highway 49 and 34th Street.

He's been ordered to pay a $74,000 fine and sentenced to 90 days in jail, but Judge Bill Atchison suspended that sentence on the condition that Brown clean-up the tire dump in the next six months.

The case against  Brown involved more than six hours of testimony over two days.

He stood accused of violating fire codes and the city zoning law in the operation of a tire recycling business near Highway 49 and 34th Street.

City building official Ron Jones testified Brown was given numerous chances to bring the facility into compliance.

Jones said it reached a point where "enough was enough" and the city shut down the business, which was overwhelmed by the vast numbers of tires.

Testimony included serious concerns about mosquito and fire danger.

"The well being of the citizens in the area. The businesses in the area. All those things that would be impacted if we had a fire out there. But primarily the firefighters' safety. Our first responders that would have to go and fight a major fire out there, that there's no reason they should have to do that," said city fire chief Pat Sullivan.

The lone defense witness was Addy Ladnier, a bookkeeper for Gulfport Tire Recycling.

She testified there were times when the plant was recycling plenty of tires and on occasion running out of tires.

But she says the plant never recovered from Hurricane Katrina.

After hours of testimony, the judge issued the guilty ruling in less than five minutes.

Brown faces a $74,000 fine and jail time, but the sentence was suspended, and Brown was given six months to clean up the tires.

"I feel like we've done a service here for the community, for the county and for the state. And if it hadn't been for Katrina, the tires wouldn't be there," said Brown as he left the courtroom, "We were overwhelmed. And we had insurance problems like everybody else."

The city prosecutor argued for a stiff sentence against the defendant.

"This should send a very strong message to any person in the City of Gulfport. If they don't clean up and maintain their property, when they intentionally create a hazard to endanger the public, they'll suffer the consequences," said prosecuting attorney, Jim Halliday.

Earl Brown says it's up to his attorney whether he'll appeal Tuesday's decision.

As for whether he can clean up the site in six months, Brown was non committal.

"Like I said before, if they let me crank it up, we'd get it cleaned up in 120 days. Flipping a coin here," he said.

When asked if he felt he's been treated unfairly by the City of Gulfport, Brown said, "a good bit."

Judge Atchison set a follow up hearing date for September 14th. He also reserved the right to increase the penalty, if Brown fails to clean up the tire mess in the next six months.