Ex-Capitol Police chief criticizes Arkansas Secretary of State, endorses opponent Lowery

FILE — The state Capitol is shown in this undated file photo.
FILE — The state Capitol is shown in this undated file photo.

Former state Capitol Police Chief Darrell Hedden claimed in a letter to lawmakers that Secretary of State John Thurston was not fit to lead, stating he was forced to fire an officer under his command without sufficient evidence of wrongdoing.

Hedden sent out a letter Monday morning to various government officials in which he endorsed state Rep. Mark Lowery, R-Maumelle, who is competing with Thurston in the May 2022 primary.

[DOCUMENT: Letter from Darrell Hedden to state legislators » arkansasonline.com/831cap/]

The letter alleges the former chief was required to fire a Capitol Police officer although he “proved” a complaint against the officer was false, that he was essentially let go himself and that Thurston lacked the ability to lead.

“The lack of his leadership and even presence during the riots that damaged the State Capitol of Arkansas sends a loud message that should not be ignored,” he said in the letter. “It demonstrates the lack of character and integrity. The State of Arkansas deserves an individual that will be a trusted leader and will be able to effectively do the work of the people.”

Hedden said in his letter that he had worked for the Office of the Secretary of State for 28 years, but he had never seen an employee or himself treated with such disdain.

“Never did he publicly denounce those events and express that they would not be tolerated,” he said. “John Thurston was basically a no show.”

Last year, Little Rock Police Chief Keith Humphrey and Hedden traded barbs during testimony before Senate and House committees on City, County and Local Affairs over their agencies' handling of the demonstrations that took place in late May and early June following the death of Minneapolis man George Floyd.

Hedden accused Humphrey's agency of providing insufficient support during the weekend of May 30, when he said his officers felt their safety threatened.

He compared the protests to "the Vietnam War come to Little Rock, Arkansas."

“When I was summoned to testify before the Joint Committee of City, County, and Local Affairs on what had occurred during the riots at the State Capitol, I was shocked that the Secretary of State himself was not there beside me, to support his police and present a forceful response as to what had occurred,” Hedden said in the letter. “After these events and the legislative meeting had occurred, I felt my access to the man I called my boss was purposely being limited. I could sense my time was coming to an end and possible to a few others.”

Hedden said that, on Sept. 25, 2020, he was directed to fire a Capitol Police officer over the telephone despite his belief that there was no basis for the dismissal due to the lack of evidence coming from an anonymous complaint directed at the officer.

“I strongly could see this officer was not afforded any sort of due process, nor was he given a chance to even hear the reasons for his termination,” he said in the letter.

Hedden said he knew his days were numbered as the chief of the Capitol Police soon afterward.

“I was told the administration wanted the police department to go in a new direction, and I would not be going in that direction,” he said. “Again I was refused a meeting with the Secretary of State. This confirmed my belief that John Thurston himself lacked any leadership in managing his executive staff, any concern for fairness to any of his employees, or even the courage and willingness to hear my concerns.”

Hedden urged lawmakers to support Lowery in the upcoming Republican primary.

“Integrity needs to be brought back to the office of the Secretary of State,” he said.

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