Madison judge sets new order in response to UM student’s death

Published 6:00 am Sunday, December 18, 2016

By Alyssa Schnugg

Lauren McGraw has no doubt that if she had known her son, Rivers, had been arrested, he would still be alive today.

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Rivers, a University of Mississippi student from Madison committed suicide in November, three hours after being arrested for his second DUI since 2015.

He was 20 years old. It was illegal for him to be drinking alcohol. McGraw says in the eyes of the law, her son was a minor.

“They arrest kids under 21 for possessing alcohol, public drunkenness, and call them minors, but then they don’t contact their parents,” McGraw told the EAGLE earlier this week. “My son would absolutely be alive today if I had been contacted by police. I believe that with all my heart.”

Rivers had been dealing with drug and alcohol abuse for a few years but McGraw said she felt her son was making progress. However, on Nov. 10, he used Xanax, cocaine and alcohol, a combination that often leaves the user in a “dark place,” McGraw said.

McGraw said doesn’t blame law enforcement and that they’re just working with the laws they have in place.

Now, she’s doing all she can to try to change those laws and others are help her, including Madison Municipal Judge Dale Danks who decided to take an immediate step in bringing light to what he says is a growing problem for young adults.

Last week, Danks ordered that people between the ages of 18 to 21 who are arrested for drugs or DUI, be held in jail up to 48 hours until a parent or guardian is contacted.

Mississippi state law states that anyone arrested has the right to see a judge and have bail set within 48 hours. A 1992 Attorney General’s Opinion suggests that local courts could have the authority to “tweak” holding procedures, as long as the 48-hour time limit is still met.

Danks said he met with McGraw and Madison Mayor Mary Hawkins Butler recently, and after also seeing similar cases in his own courtroom, decided he wanted to help bring about change.

“If we can help save the life of one person, it will be worth it,” Danks said Wednesday.

The order requires that law enforcement makes a “reasonable” attempt in reaching the parents, guardian or caretaker of anyone arrested on drug or alcohol charges.

“Once contact is made, we would release the person to the parents or guardian, without bond,” Danks said. “If the parents aren’t located, then they will come before me after 48 hours for a bond hearing.”

Danks said determining whether someone is a minor can change depending on the circumstances.

“It’s like a no-mans land,” he said of the years between 18 and 21. “But that is something we hope the Legislation can determine.”

Danks admitted his order was done “off the cuff” in response to McGraw’s tragic loss.

“But I thought, maybe I can do something to address this, bring some attention to this,” he said. “Maybe we can generate some interest to get the proper legislation passed. Until that happens, in my court, the order stands.”

McGraw said she’s grateful for Butler’s support and Danks for having the courage to “step up” and try to prevent what happened to her son to anyone else.

“I was on my way to Oxford after hearing that he been arrested by one of his friends,” she said. “I was on the phone and had it arranged for him to go to one of six treatment centers. But I didn’t make it in time. He was gone before I reached Oxford.”

McGraw said doesn’t know if Danks’ order is the answer, but says something had to be done to get people talking.

“I’m not a politician or a lawyer,” she said. “I’m a mother. I was paying for his college, his phone, his truck – why wouldn’t they call me?”

Rivers’ friends bonded him out and helped him get his truck out impounding. Three hours later, he was dead.

“Think of how his friends feel now?” McGraw said. “They shouldn’t have to. They were just helping their friend and the law allowed them to do that. I should have been the one there to bond him out.”

McGraw said she hasn’t reached out to Oxford judges or city officials about implementing a similar order in Oxford. She says she’s concentrating on getting the law changed in Mississippi.

“We have a meeting Monday with Lt. Gov. Tate Reeves, lawyers, law enforcement officers and judges to try get a bill crafted for this coming session,” she said. “We want this be done right and we need the input of law enforcement and lawyers to make sure we get a bill that can pass.

“This has helped get me out of bed every day. I want people to keep talking about this.”