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Federal government launches investigation into Crawford County arrest incident

Governor condemns force captured in Mulberry video by Thomas Saccente | August 23, 2022 at 7:25 a.m.
Randal Worcester leaves the Crawford County Justice Center in Van Buren on Monday. Three Arkansas law enforcement officers were suspended after a video of Worcester’s arrest showed two of them beating the suspect while a third officer held him on the ground outside a convenience store. (AP/Andrew DeMillo)

MULBERRY -- Federal agencies are investigating after two local deputies and a police officer were recorded holding down and beating a man Sunday.

Gov. Asa Hutchinson announced during a news conference Monday that the U.S. Attorney's Office and the Civil Rights Division of the U.S. Department of Justice have started an investigation into the incident. They will work separately from the Arkansas State Police investigation announced Sunday night into the use of force during an arrest that happened at about 10:40 a.m. that day outside the Kountry Xpress convenience store off Interstate 40 in Mulberry.

The investigations stem from a video that went viral on social media Sunday in which three law enforcement officers were shown repeatedly punching and kneeing a man, as well as slamming his head to the pavement. The video also shows police telling a bystander responding to the incident to get away from the scene.

The officers were responding to a report of a man making threats outside the convenience store, according to authorities.

Arkansas State Police identified the beaten man as Randal Worcester, 27, of Goose Creek, S.C. Worcester was taken to an area hospital for examination and treatment before being released from the hospital and incarcerated at the county jail in Van Buren.

"First of all, that is reprehensible conduct in which a suspect is beaten in that fashion," Hutchinson said Monday. "We saw a glimpse of that. It is under investigation. We don't have all of the details, and certainly that suspect had a history of concern that was legitimate for the officers, but what that response was, was not consistent with the training that they receive as certified officers with the Arkansas Law Enforcement Training Academy. That will be investigated by the state police."

Charlie Robbins, public information officer for the U.S. Attorney's Office for the Western District of Arkansas, confirmed it in his own statement Monday. Robbins said his office and the Department of Justice, along with the Federal Bureau of Investigation's field office in Little Rock, have opened a civil rights investigation into the incident.

"The FBI and the Arkansas State Police will collect all available evidence and will ensure that the investigation is conducted in a fair, thorough, and impartial manner," Robbins said. "As this is an ongoing investigation, we are not able to comment further at this time."

Hutchinson said he had talked to Jimmy Damante, sheriff of Crawford County, who promised full cooperation in the investigations.

"This is not what our law enforcement community represents. It's not the proper response," Hutchinson also said about the incident. "They will be reviewed and appropriate action taken," consistent with what the investigations find.

THE OFFICERS

In a post on the sheriff's office Facebook page Monday morning, Damante identified the officers who were involved. They included county deputies Zack King and Levi White and officer Thell Riddle of the Mulberry Police Department. All three were suspended following the incident, according to city and county authorities.

Damante said Monday the sheriff's office doesn't condone any of the actions shown in the video and is conducting an internal investigation into the matter. He said he holds all his employees accountable and will take "appropriate action" when all the ongoing investigations are finished.

Damante also said he knew Worcester attacked and injured one of the officers involved in the incident.


Worcester was held at the Crawford County jail on suspicion of second-degree battery, first-degree assault, second-degree assault, resisting arrest, possessing an instrument of crime, criminal trespass, second-degree criminal mischief and first- degree terroristic threatening after the incident, according to the sheriff's office's online inmate roster.

King has working at the sheriff's office since January 2018, according to employment records obtained through a Freedom of Information Act request to the Arkansas Division on Law Enforcement Standards and Training. He began working as a full-time deputy in July 2019.

White began his law enforcement career as a deputy for the Franklin County sheriff's office in June 2017, according to his employment records. He resigned in November 2020 for personal reasons. He then went to work for the Johnson County sheriff's office in February 2021 but resigned "in good standing" in August of that year. He started working at the Crawford County sheriff's office in January.

Riddle first started working at the sheriff's office in April 2000 before resigning in January 2008 due to "personal conflicts," his employment records state. He found work at the Kibler Police Department in March 2008, but was dismissed the following September due to being involved in a domestic disturbance in Van Buren.

Riddle then went to work for the Sequoyah County sheriff's office in Oklahoma in 2009 before becoming chief of the police department in Gans, Okla., in July 2010, according to his profile on LinkedIn. He drew his last paycheck from the Gans Police Department in March 2017, according to Gans Mayor Gary McGinnis. He started working for the Mulberry Police Department that same month, according to his employment records.

The inmate roster lists Worcester as a white man. King, White and Riddle were also listed as white in their employment records.

OTHER RESPONSES

Jennifer Sharp, a new hire at the Kountry Xpress and a Mulberry resident, said Monday that although she wasn't at the convenience store when the incident happened, she saw the video. She believes the actions of the law enforcement officers the video showed weren't justified and went beyond the limits of their authority.

"To me, police officers are supposed to set an example for how citizens are supposed to behave, and if we have a police force acting like that, what does that tell citizens that they can get by with?" Sharp said. "I mean, a slap on the wrist and, 'Oh, I'm going to get paid for my time off for doing something bad?' No. That don't fly with me."

Roy and Linda Gibson, a married couple who live in Mulberry, said they saw the video as well. Roy Gibson questioned why the officers didn't deploy Tasers on Worcester instead of beating him to the extent the video recorded.

"It made me sick when I saw it," Linda Gibson said.

Attorney Adam Rose of the Fort Smith-based Law Offices of David L. Powell said Worcester was released on $15,000 bail Monday. Rose and Powell will represent Worcester in the federal lawsuit they plan to file against King, White, Riddle and the sheriff's office "within the next couple of days."

Rose said Worcester, whom he described as a "kind, soft-spoken man," sustained many physical injuries during his arrest. Worcester is reportedly confused as to why the three officers attacked him, as well as the force they used.

A Freedom of Information Act request was sent to the sheriff's office and Mulberry Police Department Monday asking for any and all reports pertaining to Worcester's arrest, as well as body camera footage recorded during the incident. The request also asked for any and all complaints for excessive use of force that have been filed against either or both agencies during the past 12 months. Neither agency had responded to this request as of 5 p.m. Monday.

Information for this article was contributed by Alexandria Brown of the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette, Doug Thompson of the Northwest Arkansas Democrat-Gazette, and The Associated Press.

Print Headline: Feds investigating Crawford County law enforcement incident

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