News Story No. 4 of 2013: Sheriff's Office investigated by Arkansas State Police; case is now closed, according to officials
CARROLL COUNTY -- The integrity of several employees of the Carroll County Sheriff's Office was at the center of an investigation that led to a raid of the county dispatch center in January.
Arkansas State Police seized equipment from the dispatch center, which is overseen by the sheriff, while executing a search warrant, State Police spokesman Bill Sadler said.
Several authorities refused to comment on the case while it was open, but Jack McQuary, the special prosecutor assigned to the case, said the investigation concerned "possible criminal acts involving the Sheriff's Office." He would not say how many people were involved or what the nature of the "acts" was.
The case is closed; Prosecuting Attorney Tony Rogers filed no charges and no arrests were made.
While the case was open, several authorities told Carroll County News that the investigation stems from the 2011 arrest of Jack Cody Mayes, who was charged with various drug crimes after deputies searched his vehicle during a routine traffic stop on Oct. 9, 2011.
After reading the report from the case, Sheriff Bob Grudek said he still was not sure what it was all about, but he believed it all stems from Mayes' case.
Public Defender Robert "Beau" Allen later asked Judge Kent Crow to suppress evidence obtained during that detainment and search, which Allen argued was illegal because it had lasted some 30 minutes.
Rule 3.1 of the Arkansas Rules of Criminal Procedure states that an officer may detain someone "for a period of not more than 15 minutes or for such time as is reasonable under the circumstances." After that, the person must be released or arrested and charged with a crime.
During the suppression hearing, Deputies Joel Hand, Donald Harlan, Charles Dale and Chris Jones were called to testify. However, neither the defense nor Deputy Prosecuting Attorney David Phillips called Dispatcher Ryan Hand to testify, who was on duty the night of the arrest. Ryan Hand is the brother of deputy Joel Hand.
Furthermore, neither Phillips nor Allen introduced the actual recordings of the conversations between Hand and deputies that night as evidence. Instead, what was introduced were the notes taken by Ryan Hand, what is known as the "dispatch log."
"Some of our dispatchers are really good at typing," Grudek said. "Others take hand-written notes then type up the call in the log after it is all over."
Because of this, Crow did not immediately rule on the motion to suppress. Instead, he waited a few days, then decided to hold a second suppression hearing. This time, the judge himself called Ryan Hand to the stand and subpoenaed the actual dispatch recordings.
"I just didn't feel comfortable that I had all of the testimony and all of the evidence as to what had occurred," Crow told CCN.
He said the timeline as presented on the dispatch log did not add up. During the initial suppression hearing, the dispatch supervisor had testified that dispatchers entered events as they occurred and the computer affixed an automatic time-stamp on each entry.
But after examining the dispatch recordings, it became clear that the timeline presented on the dispatch log had not been correct, the judge said. Hand, the dispatcher, testified during the second hearing that he had taken notes by hand on the night of Mayes arrest and later entered the notes into the computer, unintentionally distorting the timeline.
Crow ultimately denied Allen's motion to suppress the evidence, ruling that the detainment had been "reasonable under the circumstances." Furthermore, the timeline revealed by the recordings, he said, confirmed the testimony of the deputies.
After Crow's ruling, Allen asked Crow to remove himself from the case and request that another judge be appointed.
Allen declined to comment on the reasons for his request. But Crow explained that the defense felt the judge had overstepped the bounds of judicial authority by calling his own witness. Crow, however, said he was well within his rights -- and had a responsibility -- to do so, and he denied Allen's request.
Then, mysteriously, the Prosecuting Attorney's Office decided to rest their case and not prosecute Mayes, though they reserved the right to reopen the case in the future.
Crow said that, after the case was disposed of, sometime in early summer 2012, a letter from the Arkansas Administrative Office of the Courts "appeared in the mail out of the blue."
The letter indicated that a special prosecutor and special judge had been appointed for Carroll County. Crow said he was never given any explanation for the move and did not know who had requested the appointment.
Several officials at the Prosecuting Attorney's Office declined to comment on the case or the current investigation at that time. Sheriff Grudek later held a press conference to discuss the investigation.
At the conference he characterized the investigation as a political attack engineered by Prosecuting Attorney Tony Rogers. Grudek also characterized the investigation -- which was requested by Rogers -- as only the latest in a litany of alleged slights, threats and injustices stretching all the way back to 2006, when he was first elected.
In a press release issued the day after the conference, Rogers wrote that he was unable to comment on the investigation and did not respond to Grudek's main allegation. However, he disputed many of his particulars.
The special prosecutor appointed to the case said Rogers had "absolutely nothing" to do with it since it was handed over to McQuary's office.
"I can assure you politics has nothing to do with this," McQuary added. "It involves concrete questions of law."
The sheriff said Rogers had threatened to prosecute him or his officers five times in the last six years. Though he did not offer many details about those cases, Grudek did say that Rogers had gone so far as to ask the State Police to investigate his agency once before, and nothing came of it.
"During this same time, we have submitted three cases to Tony's office where there was misconduct by officers of other departments," Grudek said. Rogers declined to prosecute two of the cases and referred a third to a special prosecutor. The latter was never heard about again, he said.
Rogers responded in a press release that each complaint was considered individually, "based on the facts alleged." Of the three cases Rogers was aware of, he said one had been referred to the State Police, one had been proven inaccurate by video evidence, and the last had been sent to a special prosecutor.
"If the special prosecutor determined that no charges were to be filed, that decision is his alone," Rogers said.
The Lovely County Citizen was able to document one of the cases referred to, which stemmed from alleged abuse of official access to the Arkansas Crime Information Center's criminal database via the JusticeXchange system during the 2010 election.
The case originated when the booking photo of Edward "Blue John" Chevallier, accessed through the system, found its way into Chevallier's hands and then ended up on a campaign flier for Green Forest Police Chief John Bailey, Grudek's Democrat opponent.
At the time, Chevallier, 81, was involved in a lawsuit against Cpl. Joel Hand, alleging his civil rights were abused when Hand arrested him in August 2010. After the incident, Chevallier became a supporter of Bailey.
The Arkansas Crime Information Center investigated the matter in September 2010, at Grudek's request. In an Oct. 4, 2010, letter to Rogers, ACIC Administrator Brad Cazort said Green Forest Police Det. Tommy Hayden had accessed the information and, further, lied to investigators about his reasons for doing so.
"Even so," Cazort wrote, "ACIC can find no evidence that indicates who provided Mr. Chevallier with a copy of his JusticeXchange report. He would have to be the one to tell you that. We did not refer this matter to the State Police as it appears the only investigation required is taking a statement from Mr. Chevallier."
Rogers declined to proceed with the investigation, and he did not reference the case directly in his statement. Later Bailey said he had been "very comfortable" that Hayden was innocent.
"As far as I'm concerned that case was investigated (by ACIC)," Bailey said, "... and whatever happened happened."
"I just find it hard to understand why (Rogers) is so aggressive and gets so personally involved over the Sheriff's Office," he said, "... but, when it comes to other departments, it's just not important."
The sheriff alleged other grievances, as well: Prosecutors repeatedly have refused his requests to be involved in plea bargaining and the disposition of cases; they have failed to properly file paperwork for the housing of state prisoners and the extradition of inmates, costing taxpayers thousands of dollars; and Rogers has twice tried to convince a judge to reprimand Grudek -- both times for reasons that later proved faulty, Grudek said.
Rogers responded that his door was always open to law enforcement agencies who wanted to discuss open cases and that they were free to make "any recommendation they like."
However, the sheriff maintained that his attempts at dialogue with Rogers had fallen "on deaf ears."
Grudek also said he had sought legal advice to determine if he had any recourse to stop the alleged abuse.
"The bottom line is that the prosecutor is almost untouchable," he concluded.
Given this fact, he said, he had no choice but to speak out.
"I don't like the way my department is constantly being challenged and questioned by the prosecutor," the sheriff said. "I don't like him threatening to prosecute us every time something goes wrong that he's not happy with. I'm tired of him calling my people liars. It doesn't make for a very good relationship."
"We're law enforcement," he continued. "We're supposed to be working together, not having the prosecutor's office looking for ways to prosecute the sheriff's office. We're supposed to be prosecuting the bad guys, and I think it's wasting a lot of energy."
Since the warrant was executed on the dispatch center, no further action has been made by the special prosecutor in this case, nor were any charges filed by Rogers' office.
Carroll County News reporter Landon Reeves contributed to this report.