Wednesday, February 06, 2008

TOP STORY > >Mayor wants status of state probe

Leader staff writer

Beebe Mayor Mike Robertson has been cautious with the information he has made public since he fired Police Chief Don Inns in August 2007. But now he says he wants to know the status of the State Police investigation into missing funds. And he wants to know now.

“All we expect is answers,” Robertson said Tuesday during an interview that also included the new police chief and assistant chief. “I understand the prosecutor can only prosecute based on evidence. But six months have passed and we’re receiving heat down here. We’re asking the prosecutor to talk to the State Police and let’s get it done.

“We know there are answers but the State Police have not communicated with the Beebe police or my office,” he said. “Six months have passed and we still don’t know where we stand.”

Prosecutor Chris Raff could not be reached for comment. Bill Sadler, spokesman for the Arkansas State Police, said the case is still open.

Although there were other issues that led to Inn’s firing, the mayor now says candidly that he fired Inns because he did not arrest drug dealers.

Robertson said residents complained to him that drug dealers were operating in their neighborhoods and that the police were doing nothing to stop them. But when he asked Inns to try to buy drugs to build cases against the dealers, Inns said no one was selling.

At the same time, he was hearing from Hal Britt, the investigator in the police department, that Inns wouldn’t give him money to try to buy drugs and that no one but Inns was allowed in the evidence room. In fact, no one but Inns was allowed to work narcotics.

So the mayor bypassed Inns and gave Britt money to try to buy drugs and either prove or disprove what Inns had told him. “Hal got with an informant and made three felony buys the first night out,” Robertson said. In five days, Robertson provided $1,460 for drug buys, enough to build 13 felony cases.

Robertson when he talked to Inns and gave him the names of the dealers, Inns still maintained that he couldn’t find anyone selling drugs in Beebe.

At about the same time, then asstistant Police Chief Wayne Ballew became concerned that Inns was releasing too many prisoners who should have either gone to jail or bonded out. Then just by coincidence, Robertson said he learned about an arrest warrant that Inns had not allowed to be served.

All that led to Inns’ dismissal on Aug. 5. Robertson said the doors were locked at that time on the chief’s office, the evidence room and another office that Inns used for storage.

On Aug. 7, with a state auditor present, the doors were unlocked. Ron Lewis, a police officer with considerable experience in narcotics who had just been hired as assistant chief, taped their first look at the rooms.

In a drawer of Inns’ office were handguns with no information to identify if they had been seized. In the evidence room was a bag of prescription drugs that were presumably evidence in a criminal case, but there was no documentation to identify them as such.

Lewis said they found one envelope containing marijuana that was marked as evidence, but it did not have a case number. They also found case files that were supposed to have evidence but that evidence was nowhere to be found.

Asked if Inns could rightfully say that someone could have tampered with the rooms after he left, all three men said they would be willing to take a polygraph test to prove they hadn’t. Robertson asked the council for reimbursement of his drug-buy money last week and the council unanimously agreed to do so.

He told the council that the investigation into Inns activities includes a $3,925 drug fund, $650 in seized funds and a $150 rebate check made out to the city that Inns cashed but did not give to the city clerk.

Robertson said that during former Mayor Donald Ward’s second term in office, control of all the drug-seized money was taken from the former Clerk-Treasurer Paul Hill and given to Inns. In 2004, the balance in the account was as much as $52,000 he said. When Inns was fired, the money from the account that was turned over to Clerk-Treasurer Carol Crump-Westergren was $400.