MOBILE, Ala. (WALA) – Amid an increasingly bitter dispute over security issues following the second high school football shooting since 2019, the Mobile County school system said Friday it is severing ties with Ladd-Peebles Stadium.

The two sides blame each other for a security breakdown that led to a shooting that wounded five people at Friday’s game between Williamson and Vigor highs schools.

Rena Philips, a spokeswoman for the school system, told FOX10 News that the system continues to investigate the details of last week’s shooting and it willing to make whatever changes are necessary.

“The first big change we are making is that we will no longer play football at Ladd, nor hold our graduation ceremonies there,” she said in a statement.

Philips wrote that the system has “gone above and beyond the services that Ladd provides and bills us for.”

Mobile County Public School System officials maintain that stadium officials failed to uphold their end of a contract governing use of the facility. On Friday, general manager Vic Knight fired back, telling FOX10 News that the stadium is not to blame in any way.

“I was really taken aback by the finger-pointing, simply because I felt like we had a really good relationship,” he said.

Mobile police continue to search for Hezekiah Kaniel Belfon, a 19-year-old who they say fired the gun. One of the victims left the hospital on Friday.

The dispute over security revolves around what happens after metal detectors deployed by the school system come down during the third quarter. The school system has hired King Security Services to operate the metal detectors. The company’s owner, Shaquille King, declined to comment on Friday.

An 18-point protocol developed by the school system after a 2019 shooting at the stadium spells out security for the entrances.

“There will be a uniformed officer at both gates – the home and visitor gates – for the duration of the game (until the game has ended and the stadium is cleared),” the statement reads.

The question is who is responsible for making sure the gates are guarded? Mobile County school board member Sherry Dillihay-McDade told FOX10 News earlier this week that Ladd is responsible for that.

“We paid Ladd for additional security, and they didn’t – apparently they didn’t do what they were supposed to do,” she said on Wednesday.

But Knight said the school system developed the protocol and is responsible for all 18 points on it – including gate security.

“The duties are well-defined. … Considering the seriousness of that incident (in 2019) and the desire of all parties to make their games as safe as possible, we had every expectation that all points of that plan were continuing to be followed by the letter,” he said.

Knight had said he expected the games to resume next year. He expressed frustration, telling FOX10 News that stadium stepped forward to host graduation ceremonies last year – without charging rent – during a time when COVID-19 forced the need for large venues that could spread people apart.

“We allowed them to come out here, probably at risk to some of our staff, but we did it,” he said.

As for the security services that Ladd bills the system for, Knight said that pays for uniformed, off-duty police officers. But he said they provide an extra layer of security and are not part of the 18-point plan developed by the school system after the 2019 shooting.

He said the officers roam the parking lot and the concourse, and help with crowd control. Plus, they have arrest powers if something gets out of hand, he said.

“Traditional police patrol type duties,” Knight said. “That is their role here at the stadium for MCPSS games.”

Knight said he has every incentive to make sure the stadium is safe. He showed FOX10 News a bullet hole from Friday’s gunfire not far from his office.

“That’s how close it was,” he said.

If it had been the stadium’s responsibility to cover the gates, Knight said, “You can bet that would have been done. But that simply wasn’t the case.”

Mayor Sandy Stimpson has ordered the Gulf Coast Technology Center, a multi-agency task force, to review security procedures at the stadium. On Monday, officials had said they had hoped that review would be complete by the end of the week, but on Friday, it was not yet finished.

All content © 2021, WALA; Mobile, AL. (A Meredith Corporation Station). All Rights Reserved.

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