GF man allegedly threatened mass shooting at courthouse

Friday, January 3, 2020

By Scott Loftis

A Green Forest man who allegedly threatened to commit a mass shooting at the Carroll County Eastern District Courthouse in Berryville remained in custody in the Carroll County Detention Center on Monday, four months after being arrested following a standoff at his home.

Dennis Lee Whitaker, 44, was arraigned in Carroll County Circuit Court on Oct. 25, pleading not guilty to a single felony count of terroristic threatening. He is being held on $250,000 bond and is scheduled to appear before Carroll County Circuit Judge Scott Jackson for a pretrial hearing at 9 a.m. Monday, Feb. 3, in Berryville.

The allegations against Whitaker, and his subsequent arrest, are the No. 3 local news story for 2019 in Carroll County.

According to a press release from Green Forest Police Chief John Bailey, Whitaker was arrested on felony warrants on Aug. 29, after barricading himself inside his garage when he saw Bailey and Lt. Allen Phillips approach.

As Bailey and Phillips talked to Whitaker, he became very upset and threatened to blow himself up and burn his house down, the press release says.

“At one point he got inside his pickup truck, started it and began pushing on his garage door with his vehicle as if we he was going to drive through the closed door,” Bailey says in the press release.

Phillips called for assistance from the Tri-City Response Team, made up of officers from the Green Forest, Berryville and Eureka Springs police departments who are trained for high-risk situations, the press release says. The Carroll County Sheriff’s Office was also notified and dispatched one deputy to the scene, according to the press release.

As Phillips and Bailey continued talking to Whitaker, he “continued to be very aggressive and suicidal,” the press release says.

“At times Whitaker would release propane gas from a propane cylinder threatening to blow himself up,” the press release says. “Whitaker also poured a flammable substance all over the inside of the truck he was sitting in while making additional threats of blowing himself up.”

After Lt. Daniel and Officer Craig Hicks of the Berryville Police Department arrived on scene, Hicks began talking with Whitaker, the press release says. Hicks is trained in hostage and crisis negotiation.

“Officer Hicks did a great job in getting Whitaker to calm down,” the press release says.

While Hicks spoke with Whitaker, other officers from the response team developed a plan to enter the house and apprehend Whitaker, according to the press release.

No officers were injured during the arrest, the press release says, adding that Whitaker was treated by emergency medical personnel at the scene for minor injuries caused by broken glass.

Authorities had been actively searching for Whitaker after he allegedly threatened to commit a mass shooting and then kill himself on Aug. 26 at the Carroll County Eastern District Courthouse in Berryville. According to an affidavit written by Deputy Kenen Martinez of the Carroll County Sheriff’s Office, county dispatcher received a tip that “Whitaker had stated he was planning to bring a gun to the circuit court house in Berryville and kill the people inside as well as himself to make a statement.”

Martinez learned that the tip came from an employee of a bail bonding company, the affidavit says. He met with the woman, Martinez writes, and she told him that she and another employee had gone to Missouri on Sunday, Aug. 18, to arrest Whitaker on a failure to appear warrant and bring him back to Carroll County to surrender a bond on Whitaker from another case.

“Dennis at that time informed (the bondswoman) that he was not going back to jail and it was his intention to commit suicide by law enforcement officer,” Martinez writes.

Whitaker was arrested in April on charges of terroristic threatening and violating an order of protection. In a probable cause affidavit filed on Jan. 2, CCSO deputy Nathan Knight writes that Whitaker allegedly threatened to burn down the homes of his former girlfriend and her family members. When Knight interviewed the woman, she told him that Whitaker owned several guns and that she had seen a bomb in his possession approximately a year earlier.

“It is orange and square with wires coming out of it,” the woman told Knight, according to the affidavit.

Whitaker was arrested and booked into the Carroll County Detention Center on April 15, records indicate. He was released on a $50,000 bond on May 1, but failed to appear for a May 6 arraignment. A warrant for his arrest was issued on May 8.

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