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City's police-patrol ban stays, Arkansas circuit judge rules

by Emily Walkenhorst | May 16, 2017 at 4:30 a.m.

A circuit judge has dismissed a request from the city of Damascus to temporarily allow city police officers to continue patrolling highways.

Judge Chris Carnahan determined Friday that the city was not being irreparably harmed by Prosecuting Attorney Cody Hiland's order that officers stop patrolling the highways after the city was found to have violated the state's speed-trap law.

"The plaintiffs' own pleadings in this matter indicate that agents of the Arkansas State Police, Faulkner County Sheriff's Office, and Van Buren County Sheriff's Office will take up the traffic enforcement duties along the [affected] highways, as such alleviating any need for an injunction," wrote Carnahan, a former senior deputy prosecutor under Hiland.

Hiland had determined that the city had turned highways into speed traps that generate extra revenue for the city through traffic fines. He said he supported Carnahan's decision and felt confident in the state's case against Damascus going forward.

"We certainly respect the court's opinion on that," Hiland said.

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The question of whether Hiland's order should stand remains to be determined in court.

Beau Wilcox, the Damascus city attorney, said he considered Carnahan's order to be "nothing more than a little toe-stubbing" for the city, which is more concerned with having Hiland's order struck down entirely. But it still stung, Wilcox admitted.

"I think it's obvious that we are disappointed in the initial ruling," he said.

Last week, Hiland issued an order reflecting his Feb. 22 determination that Damascus, a city of 385 people along U.S. 65, was operating a speed trap. The order makes it a Class A misdemeanor for a Damascus police officer to make a traffic stop on the highways that go through the city, which include U.S. 65.

Using data provided by the Arkansas State Police, Hiland found that Damascus' revenue from traffic tickets in 2013-14 and 2014-15 exceeded 30 percent of its total expenses, less capital expenses and debt service for the preceding years.

Hiland's order expires at the end of his current term as prosecutor for the 20th Judicial Circuit, at the end of 2018.

Hiland issued his decision May 9, and the city sued Wednesday for injunctive relief against Hiland's order and a judgment in their favor removing Hiland's order. The city argued that the data used to determine whether Damascus was operating a speed trap failed to distinguish the city's revenue from traffic tickets and revenue from other nontraffic violations.

Neither the prosecuting attorney nor the state, which is an interested party in the case, responded before Carnahan issued his decision Friday afternoon.

Wilcox called the state's speed-trap laws flawed and said the statute could be interpreted as making an order on a speed trap the responsibility of the city attorney, who is a prosecutor in district court. That would be him, he said.

While Wilcox argued that the city was harmed by Hiland's order, Wilcox also argued that the three other agencies patrolling the highways would be harmed by the added responsibilities.

It was unclear Monday how Damascus officers were now spending their shifts.

Metro on 05/16/2017

Print Headline: Police-patrol ban stays, Damascus told in ruling


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