Friday, June 03, 2016

EDITORIAL >> Probation corrupted

Lonoke and Beebe have stopped using a contracted probation supervisor who was arrested for allegedly trying to coerce sex from a woman he had previously overseen as a probationer. Cabot, though, has yet to sever ties with the man’s company.

The woman, who was convicted for shoplifting $52 in merchandise in Beebe, alleges the probation supervisor sexually abused her and hired her as a freelance probation officer before she reported him to the authorities.

The State Police took Jeffery Everetts, 59, of Batesville into custody after monitoring text messages intended to arrange a sexual encounter with the woman. He has been charged with felony third-degree attempted sexual assault. More victims who may have been exploited during their probation may come forward, which could complicate nearly every criminal case he was involved with in Lonoke and White counties.

Our reporter Jeffrey Smith has uncovered the sordid details, many of them unfit to print in a family newspaper. But the reported facts reveal a pattern of abuse that should not be tolerated in our communities.

The victim’s sworn statements portray Everetts as a man constantly on the prowl, many times during office hours in city buildings.

Lonoke County Prosecutor Chuck Graham requested the State Police Criminal Investigation Division look into the allegations against Everetts in April. Graham said, “We’re now trying to determine how many victims could be out there....We’re probably going to have charges (in White County), too.”

Everetts’ alleged misconduct could amount to more than sexual harassment, too. The woman who made the complaint says he paid her in cash that was collected from people on probation, a questionable way to run a business.

CS Background, Everetts’ company, also provided ankle-bracelet monitors to probationers, charging them $750 activation fees, plus $25 a month. It’s easy to imagine Everetts visited probationers to collect money as much he did to check in on their personal welfare and behavior. He may have reduced or waived fees in turn for sexual favors.

Lonoke County Sheriff John Staley became suspicious when he noticed Everetts had put the woman to work at the courthouse. Staley thought that was wrong and wanted Everetts removed.

Beebe City Attorney Scott Bles and Mayor Mike Robertson requested White County District Court not to use Everetts’ company while the case is pending. Lonoke has also stopped using Everetts’ company.

Bles told The Leader, “My office and Beebe city officials have grave concerns for probationers who are being supervised by this company,” Bles said.

The case throws lights on a little known cottage industry, which seems to operate without sufficient oversight by public officials, that allows people with little or no law-enforcement experience to provide probation services to cash-strapped city courts.

Everetts has resigned from his company, but his wife has stepped in as his replacement. That is enough to satisfy Cabot officials, who will keep using the company citing possible savings of about $54,000 this year after farming out probation services.

That isn’t good enough for the public’s interest though. Cabot must immediately end its contract with CS Background. The affidavit’s stomach-turning details show why.

Just because CS Background has saved the cities some money, it isn’t worth discrediting the criminal-justice system that Everetts represents.

His wife is not a credible replacement to oversee people whom her husband may have abused.

If more victims come forward and more charges are filed, as expected, Cabot’s decision to stand by Everetts’ company will be even harder to defend. Plaintiffs may seek reimbursements of fees he collected from them, which the cities may have to return.

People who wind up on probation should not be propositioned after committing minor offenses like shoplifting, traffic violations, hot checks and drug possession. They still deserve respect.

Aldermen and judges should provide more oversight of probation-service contractors in the future. Saving money is no reason to put people in degrading situations.

The controversy surrounding Everetts could jeopardize dozens of cases in Lonoke and White counties. It’s too bad that the alleged actions of one shady contractor could lead to tossing out charges and monetary claims against the local courts. Did he have his background checked?

Prosecutors, judges and mayors must reform a system that has brought disrepute to the courts. Finding reputable probation officers is a first step toward restoring faith in this overlooked part of our judicial system.