Clear up domestic violence arrest policy, Little Rock told

When the Little Rock civil-service commission ruled to overturn an officer's suspension Thursday, they gave the Little Rock Police Department a directive: Make sure officers are on the same page when it comes to domestic violence arrests.

After voting unanimously to overturn Sgt. Derrick Threadgill's suspension Thursday, commissioner James Hudson turned his attention to the Police Department.

"It's clear there is a question on the interpretation of some domestic violence policy," Hudson said. "I would ask the department to make sure everyone has the same operational understanding of the statutes."

On Friday, Little Rock interim Chief Hayward Finks said he plans to meet with City Manager Bruce Moore to discuss exactly where the confusion lies and how best to rectify it.

The Police Department suspended Threadgill in 2017 in part because he did not arrest a man on the charges his supervisors thought necessary, according to testimony during the eight-hour hearing. But time and time again Threadgill pointed to specific general ordinances and department rules that supported his actions and, ultimately, the commission found that the city did not prove dereliction of duty.

Throughout the hearing, which took two days on Oct. 11 and Thursday, officers gave conflicting testimony about what Threadgill should have done during a disturbance on Dec. 22, 2016.

Two years ago, a woman told police her intoxicated ex-husband threatened her with a gun, assaulted her and threatened to kill her. Officers found no evidence of physical harm and no witnesses to corroborate the woman's allegations, though they did find a handgun in the man's pocket.

The man was arrested on a charge of public intoxication and an existing warrant and taken to the Pulaski County jail, according to testimony. Threadgill said removing him from the situation long enough to cool down eliminated the immediate danger to the victim.

Many of his supervisors, however, including former Police Chief Kenton Buckner, said Threadgill should have charged the man with aggravated assault on a family or household member.

Multiple other officers testified that it's against department policy to interview a drunken man and, without witnesses or physical proof of harm, there wasn't enough probable cause to arrest the man on such a serious charge.

Domestic violence arrests are a near-daily occurrence for the Police Department, officers testified, and unchecked abuse only worsens.

"We see calls like this every day," said Lt. Brian Grigsby, one of the officers who testified during the hearing.

That trend is seen across America, with one in four women and one in seven men reporting extreme physical violence from an intimate partner, according to the Centers for Disease Control. Arkansas ranked No. 4 this year in the number of women killed by men, according to an annual study produced by the Violence Policy Center that analyzes homicide data in the United States.

And nationally, 40 percent of all female homicide victims are killed by intimate partners and approximately 16 percent of all homicides are domestic, according to the CDC.

If the crime is a prevalent one, and if the danger only increases if unimpeded, then a discrepancy in how officers handle a potentially violent abuser could put victims in danger.

Rectifying that discrepancy is important, Hudson said, because the Little Rock Police Department takes an aggressive stance on domestic violence.

Repeatedly throughout the hearings, the civil-service commissioner asked officers whether the department held an "if you can charge, then you should charge" mentality as it relates to domestic violence -- and officers said yes. Arresting the aggressor, Grigsby said during the hearing, ensures the victim is safe at least until the person is released.

"It's historically an under-reported crime, and we have to enforce these laws," Hudson said. "There was lots of misunderstanding and confusion in the testimony. At least in some of the officers' minds, there was a question of 'When do I charge in domestic violence cases?' I do expect the Police Department to eliminate any confusion."

Hudson said officers could undergo additional training to ensure that everyone was "on the same page when it comes to domestic violence cases."

Finks agreed Friday that domestic violence is an important and sensitive subject and said the department intends to ensure its procedures are being properly understood and enforced.

"I have spoken with the city attorney, and we are waiting direction on how we will abide by the directive from the commission," Finks said. "We definitely want to respond appropriately to those comments."

Metro on 12/24/2018

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