Family claims bias in search for missing Hot Springs man, 20

A post from the Hot Springs Police Department's Facebook page made after he was reported missing. - Submitted photo

HOT SPRINGS -- Nearly two weeks after Amir Ellis was declared missing by Hot Springs police, his family has contacted NAACP Unit 6013 in Hot Springs, "alleging discrimination in the handling of his disappearance," according to an NAACP news release.

Ellis was last seen on May 17. Hot Springs police posted his photo and asked for the public's help in finding him on Facebook a week later, on May 24, then arrested three suspects in his kidnapping less than a week later.

Jessica Ellis, his mother, has organized her own searches for her son and said she has not received any help from law enforcement in those efforts. She has organized two for this week, one held Wednesday and another set for today, in the Jessieville area where she believes he was taken.

She claims police told her they should be involved in the searches, but they have yet to show up to any of her search parties. Instead, strangers and volunteers have helped her on her quest. Conducting the search without dogs, drones or other equipment, her group has encountered snakes, bugs and more.

"They just dragged their feet on this," Ellis said. "They didn't even, I guess, think that he was for real kidnapped until recently."

She alleges police have mishandled the case at every turn by not moving quickly, not being thorough in their investigation and not taking it seriously.

"We are in touch with law enforcement and join with friends and family in the hope of Amir's return and that any and all perpetrators are brought to justice," the NAACP said in Wednesday's news release.

Leaders with the NAACP Unit 6013 are slated to meet with Police Chief Billy Hrvatin next week to discuss the case.

"We wanted to talk with them before we said anything further," Marsalis Weatherspoon, president of the local NAACP branch, said in an interview on Wednesday. "Because we wanted our questions answered. And we also wanted the community to know that we were concerned, involved, so that was the point of the press release."

Hot Springs police have arrested three suspects, including two 18-year-olds and a juvenile, in connection with the alleged kidnapping. Nathaniel Allen Speed, 18, who lists a Centerview Street address, Alexia Tamaara Chambers, 18, who is reportedly homeless, and the juvenile, whose name is not being released, were all taken into custody May 27 in Fort Smith.

On May 17, shortly before 9:30 p.m., Ellis, 20, was reported missing and was reportedly last seen in the early morning hours of that day at a residence at 101 Rocky Reef Circle.

"I've done everything," Jessica Ellis said. "I've got camera footage from neighbors on Rocky Reef [Circle]), I've got camera footage from banks, from the insurance company, from the Dodge Store, I have all types of evidence that they could have easily [gotten]."

She noted there have been several cases around Hot Springs that were handled more speedily and said she believes race may be a factor, citing an earlier case involving her family where race was involved.

"It's just big differences. And it's because my son is Black and because he wasn't a model citizen," she said. "I know that. And because drugs are surrounding it."

Jessica Ellis says she is not the type to claim racial discrimination and doesn't take it lightly, but she genuinely feels like that is what is happening.

"I hate that I'm even having to go through not just losing a child, but to go through him being treated like it's not important that we find him," she said.

Acting as a mediator, the NAACP is interested in figuring out if the proper care was given to the case, or if more would have been done for someone of a different demographic.

"What I'll just say, broadly, is: What are the protocols in regards to missing persons?" Weatherspoon said. "How fast is that information made public, and was there any difference between how Amir's case was treated versus other persons?"

Until those questions are answered, Ellis will continue searching in Jessieville where the tips are coming from. She said detectives told her they have also been out there, but she is skeptical and wanted to be involved in police searches.

"The house where my son was abducted, it should be a crime scene," Ellis said. "A crime happened there."

She said she still doesn't know what she will do if she finds her son, but she knows that "no one is searching for him unless I am."