Gov. Hutchinson says police beating in Mulberry ‘reprehensible,’ notes violent crime responses

by Tina Alvey Dale ([email protected]) 1,291 views 

photo courtesy of content partner KFSM

Gov. Asa Hutchinson said Monday (Aug. 22) that a video circulating on social media and news sites of three law enforcement officers in Crawford County beating a suspect on Sunday morning (Aug. 21) in Mulberry filled him with sadness and concern.

“First of all, that is reprehensible conduct in which a suspect is beaten in that fashion. We saw a glimpse of that. It is under investigation,” Hutchinson said. “That response was not consistent with the training they receive as certified officers with the Arkansas Law Enforcement Academy.”

Hutchinson said the suspect had a history of concern that was legitimate for the officers, but the conduct was not something that can be condoned.

The three law enforcement officers in Crawford County were placed on administrative leave with pay after a video shared on social media showed them beating and restraining a man in a parking lot.

“I thought his (Crawford County Sheriff Jimmy Damante) comment that they hold the officers to a high standard and immediate action was taken was important for the public to see that in this case,” Hutchinson said. “This is not what our law enforcement community represents. It’s not the proper response. It will be reviewed and appropriate action taken.”

Arkansas State Police (ASP) is investigating the incident, Damante said. The FBI is investigating with ASP, he added. The U.S. Attorney General and the Civil Rights Division of the Department of Justice are conducting a separate investigation, the governor said.

MULBERRY BEATING
In the video, a law enforcement officer repeatedly and brutally punches a man that ASP identified as Randall Worcester, 27, and slams his head against the cement ground several times. Another officer is seen kicking Worcester’s lower body repeatedly while a third officer is seen holding him down. The incident occurred at about 10:40 a.m. Sunday outside a convenience store in Mulberry in Crawford County. Two of the officers involved are deputies with the Crawford County Sheriff’s Office, and the third is an officer with the city of Mulberry Police Department, law enforcement confirmed.

Worcester is accused of threatening an employee at the convenience store and pushing and punching a deputy in the back of the head after being confronted, according to incident reports.

Worcester was sent to the hospital and was later released and sent to a county jail. He is being charged with second-degree battery, resisting arrest, refusal to submit, possessing an instrument of crime, criminal trespass, criminal mischief, terroristic threatening, and second-degree assault, state police said.

Damante said prior to the incident, officers asked if he was in possession of any weapons. Worcester is seen handing over a weapon to officers in a video from the Mulberry Police Department dashcam. Damante said that is the only other video available of the incident. No body cameras were worn by the Mulberry and Crawford County officers, but there is a dash cam video of the incident.

“I have reviewed the video. It has been sent to the state police. I will be looking at it all again,” Damante said.

He said the video does put a bit more light on the subject, noting that Worcester became violent and began to resist arrest as officers were in the process of arresting him.

The CCSO force policy states that officers can use whatever force is necessary to control a person who is violently attacking an officer or resisting arrest. While officers are required to take courses on duty to intervene every year, and the officers involved have had that training, he believes the deputies have not had specific excessive force training since the police academy, which was several years ago.

‘BAD APPLES’
None of the officers involved in the incident are rookies. The Mulberry officer had been with CCSO in the past, left in the early 2000s to work with an Oklahoma department and had later returned to be a Mulberry Police officer. One of the CCSO deputies had worked for the department as a jailer and has been a deputy officer for three to four years, Damante said. The other has been a deputy for five to six years and came to the sheriff’s department from another agency, he said.

“Everything about this bothers me,” Damante said. “There are bad apples in every job in the country. Sometimes people slip by. It does take time to weed them out unfortunately. … But I promise this. They will be punished for what they did if they are found to be in violation of any rights or laws,” he added.

Crawford County Prosecuting Attorney Rinda Baker issued a statement about the incident.

“The prosecuting attorney is aware of the video that is circulating, and the behavior that appears therein is not indicative of the law enforcement agencies those officers represent. This type of behavior is not tolerated by the law enforcement agencies within this County,” noted a statement from Baker’s office.

Though the office recognizes the “horrific nature of the activity portrayed by the video,” Baker said in the statement the officers are presumed innocent at this time.

“This incident is being investigated as a criminal act. … No decisions about charges
will be made until that investigation is complete. If or should charges be filed, then this
office will alert the public that a decision has been made,” the statement said.

Baker said the names of those involved in the criminal aspects of the case will be confidential until there is a decision that charges will be filed. The matter also will be investigated as a personnel issue, Baker said.

“The rights guaranteed under our Constitution and its amendments are alive and well in Crawford County. Due process of law is the right of every citizen of Crawford County. Until a determination of guilt is made by a trier of fact, these officers are presumed to be innocent. This office condemns any threats or violent acts. Anyone who perpetrates violence will be investigated and charged,” Baker noted.

VIOLENT CRIME RESPONSE
Along with making certain officers handle all situations legally, Hutchinson said during a press conference Monday (Aug. 22) the state is working to make the state safer. He referenced an uptick in violent crime in central Arkansas over the last couple of weeks, including 17 shootings in central Arkansas the weekend of Aug. 13.

“We are doing much to address violent crime in Arkansas,” Hutchinson said.

The steps include asking the state legislature to approve $4.5 million in funding for state prosecuting attorney offices in order to hire more prosecutors and $4.5 million for the state’s public defender offices for more defenders. Those propositions will be voted on this week, Hutchinson said.

“This will move things more quickly through the system,” he said.

The state also is increasing efforts in mental health. There are four mental health units with the state’s police departments. One of those is in Fort Smith, along with units in Fayetteville, Jonesboro and Central Arkansas, Hutchinson said. The legislature also is being asked to approve $3 million for a unit in south Arkansas.

The governor also committed $1 million from the Governor’s Discretionary Fund to keep an eye on the more violent offenders who have been paroled in five counties in central Arkansas. The Intensive Supervision program increased its number of parole officers from six to 14 with that funding. From January to April that program had 28 arrests and four firearm seizures. Since the officer expansion was implemented in April, there have been 109 arrests and 48 firearm seizures, Hutchinson said.

“The legislature also passed enhanced penalties for felons in possession of a firearm, making the state’s penalties as strong as or stiffer than federal,” Hutchinson said.

In July, the intensive supervision program confiscated 18 weapons from seven different felons on parole, said Solomon Graves, Arkansas Secretary of Department of Corrections. Over the past weekend in the Little Rock area, the program resulted in seven arrests for new felony charges and five firearm confiscations.

“As we have increased the resources for this program, we have seen an increase in confiscation, both of illegal narcotics and also of weapons. We have also seen an increase in the number of arrests by that program,” Graves said. “The offenders we are finding have multiple weapons. And they have weapons for one reason, and that is to harm and, unfortunately, kill other individuals.”