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Liberty County Sheriffs Office honors residents
Ansel Thomas, Jill Dalton recognized for tips that led to arrests
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Liberty County Sheriff Steve Sikes presents a meritorious award to Jill Dalton. - photo by Patty Leon

Liberty County Sheriff Steve Sikes presented meritorious awards to residents Ansel Thomas and Jill Dalton on Thursday afternoon for their services to the community that led to two separate arrests Dec. 5.

According to LCSO Chief Deputy Keith Moran, Thomas observed an individual approach the front door and then the back door of a neighbor’s residence. Thomas was aware that his neighbors were not home at the time.

When he noticed the suspect carry out a flat-screen television, computer and other items, he grabbed his cell phone and something to write with and, without regard to his own safety, attempted to confront the individual, Moran said.

When the suspect realized he was being observed, he quickly left the scene. Thomas obtained the license plate number and called 911. As a result of Thomas’ actions, Moran said, the suspect was arrested for burglary within minutes and all of the stolen property was recovered.

Thomas’ actions led to the apprehension of Maurice Mikel West, who was charged with burglary and probation violation and is being held at Liberty Jail on a $16,600 bond.

“I do appreciate it, and I feel honored,” Thomas said. “I didn’t expect this but I’m glad that, in my case, my neighbors were able to get their stolen property back. I was very impressed with the response time of the local police department and I’m very honored at this moment.”

Thomas said his previous military training kicked in and he wasn’t afraid that any harm would come to him. He said he has lived in the community for quite some time, and helping his neighbors was just something he knew was the right thing to do.

“I always believed that if you are going to be a part of the community or the city, do something. Be something positive for that city,” Thomas said. “So this recognition lets me know it was something positive done and I do appreciate it. This is a great honor from the sheriff’s department.”

Meanwhile, Moran said Dalton’s call started out as a possible burglary in progress, but instead it resulted in the arrest of a female offender who subsequently was charged with multiple counts of aggravated child molestation and statutory rape.

Jenica Lynn Smith of Massachusetts was charged with four counts of child molestation and three counts of statutory rape. Moran said they still are searching for more possible victims. Smith is in Liberty Jail with no bond.

“I was shocked — I really was. I was floored,” Dalton said when the police uncovered the truth about her neighbor. “I was in the kitchen talking to my mother and I saw a young man in the backyard of … the neighbor’s house looking into the windows … acting like he was trying to get in through one of the bathroom windows.

“We called the police. … They responded within a couple of minutes.”

Dalton said she never suspected that type of activity happening so close to her family.

“In many cases, most would not want to get involved, but Ms. Jill Dalton is obviously not most individuals,” Moran said. “She is a person who cares about her neighbors, her friends and citizens of Liberty County.”

“Plain and simple, I would like to say that it takes each and every citizen in this county to make a difference,” Sikes said. “There is no way that one organization or one sheriff or any amount of deputies can police this county with a county this size.

“It takes citizen involvement, and this is a prime example — these two cases here today — of the citizens helping to police themselves, and I’m just proud that you guys stepped forward, did the right thing and help make this a better community. If this encourages other people to get involved, then we’ve accomplished exactly what we set out to do.”

Dalton said everyone should be vigilant of their surroundings and get involved in their community.

“You never know … just like police officers whenever they go to a call, just like in my case, they go in for one thing, find out that’s not what it is but find something else, and this was a lot worse than the burglary we thought it was because there was a lot of kids involved,” she said.

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