That “choice” was a result of the SWAT team’s preference for escalation, rather than containment.
A few years ago, a Pine Bluff officer moonlighting as a security guard at a local big box retail store attacked and arrested a handicapped shopper named Scott Mouser
, then charged him with “obstructing governmental operations” for being insufficiently submissive during the assault. The man had forgotten his cane and provoked the officer’s suspicion by using a shopping cart to assist him while shopping.
In addition to being a danger to the public it supposedly serves, the Pine Bluff PD in recent years has been at war with itself.
Tolstoy famously said that every unhappy family is unhappy in its own way. In a similar vein it could be said that every corrupt and abusive police department – the only variety on offer, as it happens – has its own distinctive form of institutional dysfunction. Police culture encourages a pathological sense of entitlement, and in the case of Pine Bluff that tendency appears to have catalyzed latent ethnic antagonisms.
Apparently, nobody employed by the Pine Bluff PD can be fired without immediately filing a civil rights lawsuit alleging various forms of invidious discrimination. Those lawsuits provide a fascinating composite portrait of an organization that seethes with racial resentments, percolates with petty political intrigues – and offers no evidence of being populated by the kind of judicious, disciplined people capable of waiting out a 107-year-old barricaded suspect.
During her nearly three-year tenure as Pine Bluff Police Chief, Jones narrates in her lawsuit, “The percentage of white officers decreased from 75% to 52% … which caused animosity and racial resentment amongst some of the white officers … chiefly amongst them Chris Powell, who served as President of the Police Officers Benevolent Association (PBA).”
Last year, Powell’s union approved a no-confidence vote on Jones, which obviously did nothing to endear him with the chief. Powell also publicly supported the mayoral candidacy of Hollingsworth, who was “one of two white candidates running for mayor, out of a field of approximately nine candidates, the rest of whom were African-American.”
Taking advantage of a crowded field and a divided “African-American” turnout, Hollingsworth was elected
with a little less than half of the votes that were cast – and in her first official act as Mayor, she fired Jones. According to the ex-Chief, this was done in the interest of appeasing “many of the white officers employed by the Pine Bluff Police Department, and much to the satisfaction of Chris Powell.”
Powell was also fired earlier this year
after an internal investigation concluded
that he had sexually harassed and intimated a young female police recruit named Keyonna Penister. Shortly thereafter, Powell – in keeping with local customs – filed
a civil rights lawsuit alleging
that he was the victim of race and sex discrimination. Powell claims that he was the victim of a racist conspiracy “to violate [his] constitutional rights … including his right to be free from discrimination based upon his sex of male, and race of white.”
According to Powell’s version of events
, Miss Penister falsely accused him of sexual harassment as part of a plot carried out by then-Chief Jones and Assistant Chief Kelvin Sergeant. This was allegedly done “for the sole purpose of punishing him because of his support [for] Mayor Hollingsworth and because he was white.”
The harassment complaint “was first investigated by Lt. Joann Bates[,] a white female who was assigned to the internal investigation unit and she did not sustain the complaint,” claims Powell. “A second investigation was conducted by two Deputy Police Chiefs who were African-American and not assigned to the internal investigation unit as required by Police Department policy.” Powell insists that “The City of Pine Bluff systematically excluded whites from the Review Committee” created to conduct the second investigation of Penister’s charge.
Powell asserts that the decision to fire him was “arbitrary and capricious… and a motivating factor was [his] race and gender…..” He also claims to be the victim of disparate treatment, because “Black members of the Pine Bluff Police Department who have committed sexual harassment have not been terminated.” Among them, allegedly, are Ivan Whitfield, an assistant Chief of Police, and Officer Ed Johnson, who “was not terminated” despite supposedly conducting an affair while on the clock. Powell also claims that a black officer named Treadwell “threatened other officers and was not fired,” that Officer Billy Bradley “was arrested and found guilty of DWI, leaving the scene of an accident, and making a false statement and was only suspended; and that Lt. James Golden remains on the payroll despite being found “drinking on duty.”
Pine Bluff Police Chief John Howell
, who was fired by then-Mayor Carl Redus in Mach 2010, filed his own lawsuit the day after he lost his job. Howell insists that Redus fired him in a fit of incoherent rage when the Chief expressed concerns about a proposed gun turn-in program in which police would void traffic tickets on behalf of citizens who surrendered their firearms. Powell also claims that Redus improperly intervened in criminal cases, sometimes to the extent of questioning witnesses before allowing them to talk to the police.
Redus claimed that he fired Howell for insubordination. The ex-chief described the termination as an act of age and race discrimination – and said that by choosing Brenda Jones, a 48-year-old black single mother, Redus validated that claim.
Howell’s suit was dismissed
by a federal judge in December 2010. While Powell and Jones continue to pursue their lawsuits, the office they once held is occupied by Jeff Hubanks
, who was lured out of retirement by Mayor Hollingsworth.
The Mayor introduced Hubanks “to a cheering crowd of police officers, many of whom had waited in the parking lot of the civic center for more than an hour,” reported the Pine Bluff Commercial. Powell – who at the time hadn’t yet been shown the door – exulted that by firing Jones and appointing Hubanks, Mayor Hollingsworth had demonstrated that “the era of tyranny is over.”
Hubanks was warmly embraced by his troops, but the public has legitimate cause for concern: Before retiring as a Lieutenant, Hubanks served as commander of the department’s SWAT team for more than a decade. At least some of the operators who carried out the execution of 107-year-old Monroe Isadore were probably selected and trained by him. Once merely dysfunctional, the Pine Bluff PD has become downright deadly.
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