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Look into Little Rock officers’ pursuit is veiled

City officials cite open-records law by Grant Lancaster | March 24, 2023 at 3:20 a.m.
A Little Rock Police Department vehicle is shown in this file photo.

The city of Little Rock will not share the findings of an investigation, ordered by Mayor Frank Scott, into the sharing of information about a police pursuit of a vehicle driven by a 12-year-old that led to the death of a 14-year-old passenger, a spokesman for the mayor said Thursday.

City officials determined that the report could not legally be released under the Arkansas Freedom of Information Act, Scott's spokesman Aaron Sadler said in a text message. He did not elaborate on what made all or part of the report ineligible for release.

The investigation, requested by Scott last July after a Little Rock blogger and news media called attention to the pursuit, concerned the way the Police Department released information to the public, not the actions of the officers during the chase.

The vehicle crashed into trees off Chicot Road after passing into Saline County in the early morning hours of March 23, 2021. Police said officers had been tailing it since shortly after it was reported stolen by a parent of one of the teens inside.

Saline County deputies handled the initial investigation, and Little Rock police officials in a statement last July admitted they "never acknowledged" the incident, despite conducting an internal investigation into the actions of their officers.

Scott in a statement released at the time called the failure to release information "unacceptable" and tasked then-interim Chief Wayne Bewley with finding out if there had been any "deliberate effort to withhold information," identifying any "systemic failures" that could have caused the problem and developing "a corrective action plan to ensure this does not happen again."

Sadler on Thursday did not respond when asked about the corrective action plan or whether the results of the internal investigation were contrary to Scott's statement that the behavior was unacceptable.

Little Rock Vice Mayor Lance Hines on Thursday called for the mayor's office to release some of the findings in the internal investigation, KARK and FOX16 reporter Mitch McCoy tweeted.

Reached by the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette on Thursday night, Hines said via text message that he wants to know why the pursuit was not made public when it happened like any other fatal encounter involving the city's police and if or when police officials notified Scott of what happened.

It still was not fully clear who was being investigated as part of the internal review. Usually, police internal investigations are barred from release if they did not result in the suspension or termination of one of the people being investigated.

At the time Scott ordered the inquiry, Bewley said he would try to speak with former Chief Keith Humphrey about the pursuit, which happened while Humphrey was leading the department. But Humphrey would not be obligated to participate, Bewley said.

One of the officers involved, Joshua Thomas, was suspended without pay for five days in January 2022 after the department determined he violated policy by attempting to box in the stolen vehicle using his car and by disobeying a direct order not to pursue the vehicle driven by a minor.

The other officer's name was redacted from investigation documents because he was neither suspended nor terminated. The department has still not identified that officer but said in a statement last July that he resigned from the force after the pursuit.

Heavily redacted files from the department's inquiry into the officers' actions during the chase suggest the unidentified officer continued to pursue the stolen vehicle after the chase was called off, meaning that he would have also disobeyed a direct order. Any potential violations of department policy by the officer that were being investigated were redacted from the records.


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