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Jax Daily Record Monday, Sep. 14, 201512:00 PM EST

50 years ago this week: Former police officer convicted of burglary

by: Max Marbut Associate Editor

Have you ever wondered what life was like in Jacksonville half a century ago? It was a different era of history, culture and politics but there are often parallels between the kind of stories that made headlines then and today. As interesting as the differences may be, so are the similarities. These are some of the top stories from this week in 1965. The items were compiled from the Jacksonville Public Library’s periodical archives by Staff Writer Max Marbut.

A Criminal Court jury found former Duval County Patrolman Woodrow Pruitt guilty on burglary charges that could bring a combined sentence of 20 years in prison.

The jury deliberated nearly 90 minutes before returning the verdict to Judge William Harvey, who deferred sentencing until Oct. 19, pending disposition of a motion for a new trial.

The defendant was found guilty of breaking and entering with intent to commit a felony, which carried a maximum sentence of 15 years, and grand larceny, which carried a maximum of five years.

Pruitt, 31, was convicted of breaking into a warehouse at Kenco Chemical and Manufacturing Co. on Lem Turner Road while on duty Jan. 12 with intent to commit a felony and with grand larceny of paint supplies valued at $343.

In another case, not being tried, Pruitt was charged with breaking into Chandler’s Drive-In at 1821 Beach Blvd. on Jan. 7 with intent to commit a misdemeanor and petty larceny of a $10 electric shaver and a $10 radio.

Assistant State Attorney R. Baker King called several of Pruitt’s fellow officers to present testimony that Pruitt staged the warehouse burglary and was caught with the stolen articles.

Called to the stand by defense attorney Giles Lewis, Pruitt denied the charges.

“God can strike me dead right here. I didn’t do it,” he said. “God knows I didn’t do it.”

Cross-examined by King on what reasons he could give for several officers testifying against him, Pruitt said they “lied like lying dogs.”

Pruitt alleged on the stand that prosecution witnesses conspired and made up testimony after Sheriff Dale Carson was called to Tallahassee shortly after Pruitt resigned from the patrol on Jan. 12.

Gov. Haydon Burns, former mayor of Jacksonville, summoned Carson to discuss what Burns called “wrongdoing” by members of the department.

Pruitt said he thought the governor “was out to get the sheriff” and after Carson went to Tallahassee, “he had to save his own hide and somebody had to be the goat.”

Pruitt made it plain he thought he was the goat.

Action on the charges connected with the drive-in burglary also was postponed until Oct. 19.

• Even with 85 attorneys serving on a volunteer, no-fee basis, the waiting list continued to grow longer in the offices of the Legal Aid Association at 337 W. Forsyth St.

It was noted that one executive and a clerical worker fielded more than 600 calls each year from people who needed legal assistance.

The attorneys who donated their time and services, members of The Jacksonville Bar Association, met in a biweekly panel of four or five to discuss each case, said Thomas Slade III, president of the board of directors.

“Each panel reviews each case thoroughly – its history, what documents there may be and what is involved. Then another panel steps in to review the existing case and perhaps gathers a few more facts,” he said.

“The client then sees an attorney who is appointed by panel members and the case goes on from there. Sometimes it can be settled out of court, sometimes not,” Slade said.

The majority of cases involved child support.

Wage claims, mostly those in which an unskilled laborer put in a few days of work and was not paid, accounted for about 200 cases annually.

Restoration of civil rights for clients who were institutionalized or declared mentally incompetent and then released or cured was the third most common problem the volunteer attorneys encountered.

• Nearly 2,000 pounds of clothing was headed to victims of Hurricane Betsy in New Orleans, the gift of Jacksonville residents.

The clothes were gathered by Boy Scout Troop 263 and its Scoutmaster, Earl Little.

He learned of the need through a telegram sent by employees of the Western Electric distribution center in New Orleans that was posted on the bulletin board of the firm’s Jacksonville plant, where Little worked.

The clothing was packed for shipment at Arlington Congregational Church, which sponsored the troop.

The items would be distributed from the Western Electric facility in New Orleans.

• The American Red Cross Volunteer Life Savings Corps wrapped up its 54th season at Jacksonville Beach.

Corps Capt. Joel Varn said about half of the 100 members would be headed for college, some back to high school and others to “a variety of jobs representing a good cross section of American endeavors.”

During the 1965 season, 39 people were rescued from drowning, 32 were assisted in other situations and first aid was administered to 687 beachgoers.

The Jacksonville Beach corps was the first to be chartered under the American National Red Cross in 1914. According to Varn, it was the only such organization still functioning in the United States.

“We attribute our longevity to the strong fellowship and esprit de corps which developed through the years as well as the corps’ strict internal discipline,” he said.

• The City Commission turned over to the city attorney the results of an investigation of a firm accused of violating city water department regulations.

The file concerning the Wilson and Toomer Fertilizer Co. on Talleyrand Avenue recommended stopping water service to the firm unless remedial steps were taken to prevent pollution of the city water system.

The investigation determined Wilson and Toomer had a private well hooked up to its fire line, which also was connected to the city water system. Correspondence in the file dating back more than a year showed the city asked the company to install backflow prevention components, but none had been installed.

After complaints were received from Talleyrand area residents that their water had a foul smell, chemical tests showed that hydrogen sulfide was found in city water, likely from the well water.

In other business, the commission set 4 p.m. Oct. 5 for a meeting with representatives of the NAACP. Rutledge Pearson, president of the organization, asked for the meeting to discuss job opportunities in city government “and the removal of restrictions based on race.”

• Eleven months of planning and weeks of training culminated in a four-hour emergency response exercise for employees of the city Utilities Department.

At its conclusion, Utilities Commissioner J. Dillon Kennedy and members of his staff expressed confidence that if another hurricane struck Jacksonville as Dora did in 1964, they could handle the disaster with greater efficiency.

Comparing the state of readiness after the exercise and September 1964, when Hurricane Dora knocked out 97 percent of the electric system, Kennedy said communication and organization were improved.

“We never had the experience of being confronted with a thing of that magnitude before,” he said.

Falling trees and branches were the greatest causes of power outages during Dora and the public had been much more cooperative in permitting trees and branches to be trimmed by tree surgeons hired by the department, Kennedy said.

The key to the new plan for expediting restoration of service was the dispatching of specially trained emergency personnel drawn from within the electric and water departments. They would be sent to pre-assigned areas and report on damage to one of 15 subheadquarters throughout the county.

The overall operations were controlled from a central facility at City Hall.

• Beaches Hospital officials turned a symbolic spade filled with soil to signal the start of a $600,000 expansion program.

Mrs. Leo Woodard, chair of the Duval County Beaches Public Hospital board, was assisted by John Russo, the recently named hospital administrator.

Also on hand for the ceremony was J.N. Thornton, superintendent for Tharpe Construction Co., which had a $450,000 contract to build a 50-bed addition to the 25-bed hospital.

Woodard said the hospital would raise 55 percent of the funds for the expansion and the federal government would provide the remainder.

• Former Fire Chief Frank Kelly would be able to ride around the county in the style to which he was accustomed after the City Commission approved the purchase of a vehicle.

Two bids were received for a bright red, air-conditioned, fully loaded Chrysler Newport. The vehicle would be turned over to the Jacksonville / Duval County Civil Defense office for the price of $1 for use by Kelly, who joined the civil defense staff after he retired from the fire department.

The low bidder was Atlantic Motors at $3,949. A bid of $4,139 was submitted by Brooks Motors.

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