- Associated Press - Friday, December 26, 2014

SPRINGFIELD, Mo. (AP) - Only seven years ago, Juan Jones, Greene County’s only black patrol deputy, was homeless. He briefly lived in his car in Springfield during the ice storm of 2007.

“I was staying warm at the McDonald’s and at the Krispy Kreme,” said Jones, 26. “It was a real rough time for me. I finally got a place to stay.”

Jones was born in poverty in St. Louis. He has been in and out of 21 foster homes. He eventually went to court to become emancipated, meaning he no longer needed a legal guardian, the Springfield News-Leader (http://sgfnow.co/1Jf91Mg ) reported.

“I grew up around drugs and alcohol and domestic abuse,” he said. “Crack was the main choice of drug. I didn’t meet my dad until 2013.”

Growing up in St. Louis, he said, most people treated police with disdain.

“All of them hated cops and I did for a while, too,” he said.

Jones has been a Greene County deputy for 15 months. He is one of 60 patrol officers. This is his first law enforcement job.

Years ago, he moved from St. Louis to Rolla and then to Springfield. He was dating a woman and the relationship ended, he says, because she was involved in drugs. He was without a home after they broke up.

He enrolled at Drury University to study journalism. But before long, he spotted runners on campus. They were in the university’s law enforcement academy. Jones met Tony Bowers, the academy’s director, who pitched a career in law enforcement.

It sounded good, Jones said. But those who knew him from St. Louis were shocked.

Not just because he was going to become a police officer, but that he was going to become a sheriff’s deputy officer in Greene County, where Springfield is located.

“Springfield has its history,” Jones said. “The issue they had on the square.”

Many blacks throughout the state are aware of the 1906 Good Friday lynchings and burnings of three black men, Jones said.

A mob of about 2,000 broke into the jail and seized two men who were being held in connection with an alleged robbery. They had been held earlier in the day for an alleged rape, but were released after their employer vouched for them, saying they were at work all day.

The two men were taken to the square and lynched.

The mob then went back to the jail and grabbed a third black man and hanged him and - like the other two - doused him in coal oil and burned him.

The black population of Springfield was 9.8 percent in 1900. It dropped significantly after the lynchings. It was 3.7 percent in 2010.

According to Jones, “My family was curious as to why in the world I would choose to work here.”

He has an answer.

“I let God choose my path,” he said.

Jones is married and has two girls, ages 1 and 3. He earns $31,117 annually. County employees this year received their first raise in six years.

“The job is not about the pay,” he added. “I am not expecting a lot of money. But it sucks to give your life to something and not to be able to take care of your home, to not really have food in the fridge. The main thing is that I like to be able to pay the bills. Student loans? Oh gosh, man!”

Internally, he said, he feels as if he has more trust with the higher-ups in the department than with fellow deputies.

“It is definitely not because I am black,” he said. “It’s because I have not been here that long.”

Overall, he said, other than the pay it’s a good job.

“I am very proud of the department and wouldn’t trade it for the world,” he said.

___

Information from: Springfield News-Leader, http://www.news-leader.com

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