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Star City police officer was justified in striking 15-year-old girl in July, investigators say

by Will Langhorne | October 7, 2022 at 4:36 a.m.
Police lights

A Star City police officer who struck a 15-year-old girl while attempting to restrain her acted in self-defense and was allowed to return to work last month, according to the results of an administrative investigation by the department.

A roughly weeklong internal inquiry found officer Johnathan Fallis acted in accordance with department policy when he hit a runaway girl from Russellville at the Lincoln County jail early in the morning of July 19, Star City Police Chief Cody Drake said Thursday.

Fallis delivered "one hard hand control technique" to the girl who is alleged to have scratched, bit and spit at Fallis and other officers as they attempted to place her in a restraint chair. Fallis acted in defense of himself and the other officers, according to a news release from the department.

A deputy with the Lincoln County sheriff's office described the strike as a "closed fist jab to [the girl's] cranium" in an incident report.

Karin Scissell, the girl's grandmother, previously acknowledged the girl had a history of trouble but has characterized the use of force an act of "total police brutality." Photos of the girl Scissell said were taken a week after the incident show dark bruises on the girl's face, arms and legs. In a Lincoln County sheriff's office incident report, the girl is described as 118 pounds and 5 feet tall.

Scissell did not immediately respond to a phone call Thursday.

Fallis, who was placed on administrative leave in August, returned to work on Sept. 1 -- the day after the department completed its investigation, said Drake.

Fallis declined to comment on Thursday and referred questions to Drake.

The department opened its inquiry after Cody Bassham, a Pope County public defender, filed a use-of-force complaint against Fallis on Aug. 23.

Bassham referred previous requests for comment to Carol Collins, public defender district manager based in Russellville. Collins did not return a phone call request for comment on Thursday. In August, Collins said she was unable to comment on the incident.

While the Star City Police Department took no administrative action against Fallis, Drake provided the findings of the investigation to Kyle Hunter, prosecuting attorney for Jefferson and Lincoln counties.

Hunter did not immediately respond to phone calls on Thursday.

When reached at the end of August, Hunter said he was still gathering information. No charges were filed against Fallis at the time. On Thursday, Drake said he was unaware of any pending criminal investigations into Fallis' conduct.

The news release describing the results of the investigation claims the girl bit Lincoln County Deputy Dylan Priest several times and spit on Fallis, Priest and an unidentified Lincoln County jailer. The girl is also alleged to have attempted to bite Fallis and smeared blood from self-inflicted wounds on the officers.

The girl was later charged with two counts of aggravated assault on a correctional officer and one count of impairing operation of a vital public facility, according to the incident report filed by the Lincoln County sheriff's office.

In the release, the department alleged that "unbeknownst to Deputy Priest, the juvenile was under the influence of drugs and alcohol." Due to her alleged intoxication and disposition the girl would not "respond to soft empty hand pain compliance control techniques." A incident report filed by Priest did not mention the girl was under the influence at the time.

The news release indicated that the officers' other options for subduing the girl -- including pepper spray and stun guns -- were not feasible or safe. Pepper spray "would have contaminated and affected the entire jail potentially causing injury to people not involved in the incident."

The close-quarter struggle also prevented officers from stepping back far enough for an electric stun gun to be effective. If the officers had used a stun gun, the girl could have fallen and hit her head on the concrete floor of the jail, according to the report.

After the confrontation with the officers, the girl escaped from the restraint chair. Emergency medical personnel later offered her treatment, according to the report.

In August, Lincoln County Sheriff Leonard Hogg said the Arkansas State Police Crimes Against Children Division was conducting an independent investigation. On Thursday, Hogg said he had not heard of any updates in the state police investigation. Hogg's office has not opened an investigation.

Arkansas law prevents the state police from confirming or denying any investigation conducted by the division. The Arkansas Democrat-Gazette obtained two reports of the incident filed with the division. However, both reports appeared marked as "not accepted for investigation" because they did not "meet criteria set forth in Child Maltreatment Laws for Child Abuse or Neglect."

The child maltreatment investigations conducted by the division are noncriminal, according to state police spokesman Bill Sadler. To open a criminal investigation into use of force, the state police would have to receive a request from local law enforcement, Sadler said in August.

Sadler did not return a phone message left Thursday.

Officers took the girl to jail after she ran away from her home in Russellville. At the time, she was on probation and was wearing an ankle monitor. After the confrontation, she was transported from the Lincoln County jail to the Jack Jones Juvenile Justice Center in Pine Bluff, according to an incident report.

Scissell claimed officials at the Jack Jones Juvenile Justice Center declined to take her granddaughter because of her wounds. The girl was instead sent to Rivendell Behavioral Hospital in Benton. From Rivendell, the girl was taken to another hospital and ultimately entered the custody of the Division of Youth Services, according to Scissell.

The Arkansas Department of Human Services, which oversees the division, could not address whether the girl was in its custody. State law prevents the department from confirming or denying any investigation into the incident, said spokesman Gavin Lesnick in August.


Print Headline: Star City police officer was justified in striking 15-year-old girl, investigators say

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