Friday, April 28, 2017

TOP STORY >> Suit insists police chief must resign

Leader staff writer

Jacksonville Alderman Tara Smith filed a lawsuit Wednesday to have the new police chief removed immediately. She claims he’s ineligible for the job because of his criminal record.

The mayor hired Geoffrey Herweg, 53, from Lovington, N.M., about two weeks ago after the selection committee unanimously chose him from 31 applicants despite Herweg having a Class B misdemeanor 17 years ago for filing a false police report after he left the scene of an accident in Texas.

Smith filed suit in Pulaski County Circuit Court, as a resident of Jacksonville, claiming that the mayor is illegally spending city money by giving Herweg a paycheck.

She is not only asking for the immediate dismissal of the chief but also a judgment that the city, by paying the chief, made illegal and improper payments, which constitutes an illegal use of city money.

She also wants the chief barred from ever holding the top law-enforcement position in Jacksonville and wants all money paid to Herweg to be refunded to the city.

Smith is suing Mayor Gary Fletcher for hiring Herweg, City Clerk and Treasurer Susan Davitt for signing city checks to Herweg and also Herweg, because he shouldn’t be the police chief, she argues.

According to the complaint, Fletcher violated the state constitution when he hired someone who was guilty of “an infamous crime.”

The attorney general’s office is reviewing opinions to find out if Herweg’s hiring violates state law.

According to Smith’s lawyer, former Rep. Nate Steel, an “infamous crime” is defined bythe state as “any misdemeanor offense in which the finder of fact required to find, or the defendant to admit, an act of deceit, fraud or false statement.”


He says in the complaint that Act 724 of 2013 clarifies it even further: “Infamous crime” includes any crime that leads to a loss of public confidence as well as offenses in the nature of perjury or subordination of perjury, false statement, criminal fraud, embezzlement, false pretenses, or any other offense that involves some element of deceitfulness, untruthfulness or falsification.”

Steel further states in the complaint that anyone convicted of an “infamous crime” not eligible to be in the “General Assembly or capable of holding any office of trust or profit in this State.”

The section in the state Constitution Smith refers to in her suit specifically lists only the General Assembly.

State law also gives exclusive rights to a mayor to appoint his own department heads as long as the appointment is not overridden by two-thirds vote of the council.

No other Jacksonville aldermen support Smith’s efforts to oust the chief.

According to Smith’s complaint, “The position of chief of police is an office of public trust or profit as set forth in Article 5, Section 9 of the Constitution of the State of Arkansas and its judicial and legislative interpretation. Thus, Herweg is and should be prohibited from holding the office of Chief of Police in the State of Arkansas.”

Herweg was charged on Christmas Eve in 2000 with causing an accident with damage of more than $200 and filing a false police report.

On the way home from a party, he ran into a garage door, left the scene, got his vehicle stuck in the mud farther down the road and walked home.

He told police at the time that the car was stolen. Herweg told The Leader, he called his chief two hours later, explained that the accident was his doing and that he would come in and amend the report.

In a plea deal, the district attorney dropped the accident charge for a guilty plea on filing a false report. Herweg was also stripped of his Texas law-enforcement license.

Smith’s suit also claims Herweg is a “Brady Cop,” a police officer with a history of deceit, but he is not listed as one in Texas, New Mexico or Arkansas and has not been subjected to that label in any case he was involved in. The suit maintains Herweg, as the police chief, “jeopardizes every investigation, arrest and prosecution; which in turn jeopardizes public safety.”

She has not met with Herweg or the mayor over her concerns and now that the suit has been filed, city officials have been told by the city attorney not to discuss the case.