Desoto County NewsMississippi News

Proposed measures would add additional prosecutors for DeSoto County 

DeSoto County could receive three permanent prosecutors through two proposed bills in the  state House and Senate this legislative session. The measure is another attempt to beef up the  District Attorney’s Office after the same bill, which was authored by Senator Michael McLendon (R-Hernando) last year, was stalled in the Senate.  

By statue, DeSoto County is only allowed five prosecutors. 

In 2023, the legislature appropriated $275,000 in temporary funding to aid in the creation of  DeSoto County’s new 23rd Judicial District, when it split from the 17th. However, because it was  not changed statutorily, the allotment is not permanent.  

“Despite the best efforts by the legislature,” said District Attorney Matthew Barton, “we are still behind. I mean no disrespect to previous administrations, but this office was neglected for 17 years, maybe more. Statistically, we have a lot of catching up to do.” 

Barton said increasing the number of Assistant District Attorneys from five to eight, statutorily, will help his office meet the prosecutorial demands of other agencies and the Sheriff’s Department,  who are increasing their public safety budget year after year.  

“In fact, Southaven has increased their police officer growth by 36 percent in the last four years, as part of Operation Close Door,” said Barton. “Naturally, that means a larger case load for our office that is getting progressively larger every day. Common sense will tell you that both teams need to grow harmoniously to support one another’s efforts. That has not happened in the past.” 

The District Attorney also pointed out that while DeSoto County is third in terms of population, it is the only county in Mississippi that borders America’s most dangerous city – Memphis, which has a crime rate of 237 percent higher than the national average, and an exceptionally high violent crime rate. We have a population boom that is not counted in the census data.”  

The two proposed bills are an effort to address the disparity between Mississippi’s three largest  counties: Hinds, Harrison, and DeSoto. Statutorily, Hinds County has 14 state-funded legal assistants and Harrison has 10, compared to DeSoto’s five. That’s roughly one Assistant District Attorney for every 20,800 in Harrison County, one for every 16,000 in Hinds, and one for every 37,000 in DeSoto, Mississippi’s fastest growing county.  

“We ask our Police Officers and Sheriff Deputies to put their lives on the line to protect our  community,” said Sen. McLendon. “The least we can do, as a state, is to make sure the District Attorney has the resources needed to expedite the prosecution of crimes those officers bring to the District Attorney. That’s what this bill does –– helps bring the District  Attorney’s Office up to speed with the rest of the county.” 

Newly elected state Rep. Doc Harris (R-Hernando) has also mirrored the same bill in the  House. Both are awaiting bill numbers to be assigned after yesterday’s legislative draft  deadline.  

“Public safety is important to us all,” Harris said. “Ensuring our District Attorney’s Office has the resources it needs to keep us safe is a core function of state government. It will also remain a top priority of mine.” 

With that, Barton said he commends the ongoing help from legislators in Jackson and, “our ask  is data-driven. While we know this is a significant investment, it is one that is warranted by the  data and will help bring us in line with Hinds and Harrison counties.”