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Health department outlines policies, procedures

The daily news briefing for the Arkansas response to the COVID-19 pandemic was not hosted by Gov. Asa Hutchinson on Wednesday, instead being led by Secretary of Health Dr. Nate Smith, who explained how the Department of Health was working with businesses.

The governor, who normally leads the daily presentation, was in Washington D.C. Wednesday. He announced Monday the meeting there was to meet with President Donald Trump and Vice President Mike Pence regarding Arkansas’s response to the pandemic.

Smith was joined by State Epidemiologist Dr. Jennifer Dillaha and Medical Director for Infectious Disease Dr. Naveen Patil,

The state currently had 5,003 cases as of Wednesday afternoon, up 80 from Tuesday. Of these, 1,044 are active with 85 in nursing homes, 315 in prison facilities and 644 in the community, Smith said.

Hospitals currently hold 79 COVID-19 patients, up one from Tuesday, with 16 on ventilators, up two from Tuesday. Five people have died since Tuesday, bringing that total to 107. Four of the five deaths recorded since Tuesday were from nursing homes.

On Wednesday, 3,852 had recovered, up 113 since Tuesday. Smith pointed out this means more people recovered than were recorded as infected since Tuesday.

Testing recorded 4,396 since Tuesday, a single-day record Smith said, with a 1.9 percent positivity rate. This marks, Smith said, 44,240 tests for May, putting the state on track to meet the goal of 60,000 tests, or 2 percent of the state population, set for May.

Since the beginning of the pandemic, 95,010 have been tested.

“Safe worksites are essential for our economy,” Smith said, explaining that this means not just a safe place for workers, but for customers in order to manage disease spread. His department has been working with worksites in order to assure public safety while allowing businesses to remain in operation, he said.

Smith introduced Dillaha as the person who oversees the Department of Health’s interaction with worksites, and she explained the process when a worker tests positive.

It begins with someone who has symptoms and tests positive, she said. Then the positive result is sent to the Department of Health. Once that is known, the patient is contacted by a nurse from the department, who then begins the process of contact tracing.

Contact tracing begins with tracing back two days before the patient began showing symptoms, and anyone who has been in contact with the patient. Those people are contacted and asked to self-quarantine by the department, Dillaha said.

Dillaha acknowledged that those in critical infrastructure roles were permitted to continue work, provided they are able to do so with minimal contact and while wearing personal protective equipment (PPE).

Smith, responding to a question, said those in critical tasks were usually assigned working with those who have also tested positive for COVID-19. In an earlier press briefing Smith has said this was the policy for prison officers.

Dillaha said a secondary role is to work with worksites in developing plans and policies which would prevent disease spread. One example of this was putting up shields between workers who otherwise work closely together, and encouraging the employer to have policies so when an employee is sick they do not feel compelled to work.

“Our goal is to keep the businesses open,” Dillaha said.

Patil heads the group tasked with oversight of congregate settings, such as nursing homes, human development centers and prisons, Smith said in introducing him.

Arkansas has an advantage, Patil said, because it had put programs and teams in place after receiving funding for Ebola response and acting from the threat of that disease. This meant the team and procedures, including training and outreach, were already in place when the COVID-19 outbreak was first identified in Arkansas, he said.

Patil thanked members of his team who were, in the early days of the outbreak arriving early to gather test kits, traveling to nursing homes, then returning late to submit the test kits for processing. This process was repeated for weeks and “thousands and thousands of tests,” he said.

Patil reminded people it was important to maintain social distancing, and to wear a mask when that was not possible, as well as regular hand washing.

Smith, in response to a question, said the announcement about summer camps and summer teams sports could be expected Thursday.

Conway renter says landlord tried to illegally force him out of his home

Until the COVID-19 pandemic hit, Conway resident Milton Light was working as a coiled tubing operator in the oil fields near Odessa, Texas. Light began getting his hours cut in March due to the pandemic and was eventually laid off April 3. He told his landlord in late March that he would have trouble paying April rent because of the sudden loss in income.

Toward the end of the month, the landlord, Genai Walker-Macklin, told Light that he would have to move out within less than a week. “I’m being nice to let you get your items out,” she said in an April 3 text message.

In the weeks that followed, Walker-Macklin did not obtain an eviction order from the courts. Instead, according to documents filed in Faulkner County Circuit Court, she had the locks changed on the house at 1685 Jackson Drive, attempted to shut the utilities off and tried to have Light’s car towed. When Light declined to move, she contacted the Arkansas Department of Human Services, claiming that the state of the house made it unfit for habitation by Light’s four children.

On April 30, Walker-Macklin filed a lawsuit in circuit court seeking a civil eviction, known as an unlawful detainer complaint. The case is ongoing and does not yet have a hearing set. In the meantime, Light continues to live in the house, which he is able to access only with a garage door opener. Walker-Macklin continues to take matters into her own hands. On Tuesday, while Light was away from home, Walker-Macklin had movers remove his belongings and load them into a truck before police made her stop and unload them back into his home.

Most states have implemented some form of a temporary moratorium on evictions in response to the COVID-19 crisis. Gov. Hutchinson declined to enact a similar measure in Arkansas, expressing confidence that landlords would work with tenants facing financial difficulties caused by the pandemic. “I expect landlords to work in a humanitarian fashion,” he said at a news conference April 29.

However, eviction filings have continued in Arkansas. At least 157 civil eviction complaints were filed for nonpayment of rent in April and the first half of May, according to an analysis by Lynn Foster, a retired UA Little Rock William H. Bowen School of Law professor. That figure represents a significant undercount in the total number of eviction actions because of limitations in publicly available tracking. Many of these complaints refer to unpaid rent accrued before the COVID-19 crisis began, but an increasing number of evictions filings, like that against Light, are for nonpayment of rent during the pandemic.

Walker-Macklin – a financial advisor for Morgan Stanley and a former professional basketball player, according to a biography on the financial services firm’s website – lives in the Dallas area. She and her husband, Demitrius Macklin, own multiple properties in Central Arkansas (Faulkner County property records for 1685 Jackson list Demetrius as the owner). She did not respond to repeated requests for comment for this story.

Text messages provided by Light show he told Walker-Macklin on March 23 that his work hours were being cut. A few days later, she told him that she was planning to rent the house to new tenants and that he could meet her at the property March 31 to take care of his belongings. At the time, Light was still working in Odessa, so he had his girlfriend go to the house instead. When she arrived, she discovered the locks had been changed.

Walker-Macklin had begun actively showing the property, Light said. “There were families coming through here to look at the house,” he said in a recent interview. “Some of them didn’t know I was living in the house and I was under a lease and everything.” She even got a new tenant to sign a lease, Light said; she texted him to say that the planned move-in date was April 7 and that any belongings left in the house on April 6 would be disposed of.

Light told Walker-Macklin that the terms of the lease gave him until April 5 to pay the $1,100 rent, at which point late fees would begin accruing. He said that he planned to continue to live in the house. “I have no lease violations and have done nothing that warrants eviction,” he said in a text. “If you move my things or move another tenant in you will be in violation of the agreement you made with me.”

On April 3, Walker-Macklin wrote to Light, “Let me know the time that you will leave on [April 5]. … And, I hope to not have to include your ex-wife in any of this.” Light, who is divorced, has four children between the ages of 4 and 8 years old. They primarily stay in Wynne with their mother, Sharika Light, but often spend time with Milton when he is back in town from work (he pays monthly child support).

Light returned to Arkansas on April 4, and the situation escalated as the month went on. Walker-Macklin attempted to transfer electricity out of Light’s name, but he communicated with the utility company and was able to keep the power on. She twice called CenterPoint Energy to get his gas turned off, Light said. She also threatened to have him arrested.

Light was not charged with a crime, but some tenants in Arkansas who fail to pay rent can be. Arkansas is the only state in the nation with a criminal eviction statute. The law says tenants who fail to pay rent and fail to vacate the property after being given a 10-day notice can be charged with a criminal misdemeanor and fined up to $25 for every day they remain at the property. However, district courts in many counties do not hear such criminal eviction cases as a matter of practice. Jenner, Light’s attorney, said prosecutors in Faulkner County typically do not pursue such cases.

On April 5, Walker-Macklin texted Light and accused him of improperly caring for his children and threatened to contact his ex-wife. “Your wife being contacted doesn’t have to happen,” she said. Around a week later Walker-Macklin sent Sharika Light a text message saying she was planning to call DHS the next day about allegations of improper living conditions for the children. “It’s in his best interest to figure this out quickly because if something gets on his record, it’s hard to remove,” Walker-Macklin wrote Sharika on April 12. She said there was mold in the house caused by “the activities that he partook while there” and that she had hired a handyman to “clean and remove any doors and windows” to remove the mold.

“Now, if he leaves my house, and let me know [sic] treat the house for the mold, then their [sic] will be no reports with DHS/CPS tomorrow,” she wrote April 12.

In an April 13 text message to Light, she told him that she was going to contact DHS: “The living conditions, potential mold from uncleanliness and the lack of concernment of paying to have a roof over their heads. Those are all grounds of child endangerment.” She added, “I did not start any of this. You should have left on 3/31.”

On April 20, a social worker from DHS came to the property. Sharika Light had to take off work early, she said, and drive more than two hours to Conway for the appointment. The social worker had Milton leave and asked the kids a few questions about their father, Sharika said. “She did a walk-through of the house and everything and that was that – because they weren’t in harm’s way,” she said in a recent interview. She also said she saw no mold in the house. Milton and Sharika both say they have received no further communication from DHS. (DHS as a matter of policy will not comment on child welfare investigations.)

“She’s making these allegations that the home is in this terrible condition and he’s endangering his children, but then she posted these pictures of the home in pristine condition in her listing for it for rent on Trulia.com,” Jenner said.

On the morning of April 30, according to Light, Walker-Macklin showed up at his home with a tow truck to have his vehicle towed. She placed “no trespassing” and “private property” signs all over the windows, the fence and the front yard. Light called the police. The police declined her suggestion that Light be arrested, made her take down the signs, halted the towing of the car, and eventually left the chaotic scene.

Later that same day, Walker-Macklin filed an unlawful detainer complaint in Faulkner County Circuit Court. She included a notice to vacate, dated March 31, which stated that Light was delinquent for April rent. She accused Light of “having people move in without notification … changing locks without consent, not leaving premises within 24 hours of an eviction, and not giving proper notice for a move out.” The complaint also says Light had refused to communicate and had placed his children in harm’s way.

Light said he was perplexed by some of the accusations. “She’s the one that changed the locks,” he said. The accusation that he has allowed other people to move into the residence was also a lie, he said. “The only thing she could be referencing is my kids,” he said. “My girlfriend comes over here and leaves, but she wasn’t living here.”

Light said that he had periodically attempted to work out some sort of agreement with Walker-Macklin while he waited for his unemployment insurance to be approved. On May 4, he texted her to ask if he could make a partial payment on April rent while he waited to receive his unemployment check (the check eventually arrived on May 7).

“No, you are 34 days late on rent,” Walker-Macklin responded. “10 days or arrest. You owe at this moment, $2,200 plus $280 in late fees. That’s the only amount that can be paid or arrest.”

In a counterclaim to Walker-Macklin’s unlawful detainer complaint, Jenner accused Walker-Macklin of pursuing an illegal self-help eviction, arguing that she had engaged in attempts at forcible entry and forcible removal of Light from his home. Jenner asked the court to enter an order preventing further such actions and awarding an unspecified amount of damages.

Jenner also raised the question of whether the property is covered by a federal prohibition on certain evictions. The CARES Act, the COVID-19 relief bill passed by Congress at the end of March, imposed a moratorium through July 24 on evictions at some properties, including federally subsidized rentals and federally backed mortgages. The Arkansas Supreme Court issued an order April 28 mandating that an eviction complaint must affirmatively state that the property is not covered by the CARES Act; Walker-Macklin’s complaint does not do so.

Jenner noted that Walker-Macklin’s complaint included a copy of a monthly mortgage statement for the property that lists an FHA insurance fee. In a text message to Light in April, Walker-Macklin said the property would not fall under the moratorium: “the CARES Act applies to rents of Arkansas homes with federal government loans. Our house is paid in full.” However, the mortgage statement attached to her complaint includes an outstanding principal amount of $92,479.59.

On May 14, Jenner asked the court for a preliminary injunction barring Walker-Macklin from taking further steps to remove Light from the house without a court order. The court should also require Walker-Macklin to provide Light with keys to the new locks to restore full access to his home, he argued. According to Jenner’s filing, Walker-Macklin has continued to list the property for rent.

“It’s just a really exemplary case of the hardships that renters, especially here in Arkansas, are facing,” Jenner said. Advocates for tenants have long argued that Arkansas has the most unfriendly laws for renters in the nation. In addition to being the only state in the nation that makes failure to pay rent a criminal violation, it is also the only state that does not require landlords to maintain safe, sanitary and fit premises for tenants to live in.

Light said that he would like to seek a new job but is now nervous to leave his home. Rather than waiting for the court, Walker-Macklin is still trying to force Light out of the house. On Tuesday morning, Light returned to his home after dropping his children off at their mother’s house and found that his belongings were being hauled out of the house by a team of movers. Light called the police. Walker-Macklin still did not have a court order for the eviction, and the police again told the landlord to desist (the movers brought the items in the moving truck back in the house, but Light told police that not all of his belongings had been returned).

“He’s afraid to leave his home to work because he’s afraid she’s going to throw his stuff out on the curb,” Jenner said. “Which is, again, against the law, but now he can’t even go back to work out of fear of his landlord’s actions.”

Man accused of sexually abusing child held on $100K bond


A Conway man accused of forcing a child to perform sexual acts on him in March was ordered on Monday to remain behind bars in lieu of a $100,000 bond.

Sergio Ismeal Olvera, 26, was charged with second-degree sexual assault, sexual indecency with a child and sexually grooming a child after the young girl disclosed the abuse with her mother.

According to a felony probable cause affidavit filed in Faulkner County Circuit Court earlier this week, the young girl first disclosed the alleged abuse with her grandmother. However, the girl told authorities her grandmother instructed her “not to tell her mother” about what happened.

The girl told police that even though Olvera made her pinky promise she wouldn’t tell anyone and her grandmother told her not to say anything to her mother, she decided to tell her mother about the incident “because she did not think it was right to keep that from her,” the affidavit states.

The alleged abuse reportedly happened on March 16 at a family friend’s house.

The girl was at the family friend’s home with her grandmother when she went into Olvera’s room to play Minecraft. The family friend and the grandmother were in another room “with a lot of sewing stuff,” the girl told a forensic interviewer with the Children’s Advocacy Center.

Olvera is the family friend’s son, according to court documents.

The girl and another child were in Olvera’s room when the alleged abuse happened.

According to the girl’s statement, the other child who she referred to as her younger cousin, was playing Minecraft when the 26-year-old repeatedly told her she could touch his genitalia.

When she said “no,” Olvera reportedly grabbed the girl’s left hand and forced her to touch him inappropriately.

In the interview at the Children’s Advocacy Center, the girl told officials that Olvera also had her watch several videos of him masturbating before having her touch him.

According to the affidavit, the young girl was able to act out what Olvera did in the sexually explicit videos and also drew pictures to show what part of Olvera’s body he made her touch and which part of her arm he grabbed.

At the time of the incident, the girl told officials that Olvera briefly pulled away from her and covered himself back with the other child in the room turned around and asked what they were doing, according to the affidavit.

However, the girl said once the other child turned around, the Conway man exposed himself again and proceeded with the inappropriate, sexual contact.

When it was time for the girl to go home on the day in question, the affidavit states that Olvera “made her promise that [she] wouldn’t tell anyone.”

The 26-year-old made the girl pinky promise she wouldn’t tell anyone else about what happened and said that if she did, that would make her a liar, according to the affidavit.

The girl told police the “disgusting stuff” lasted for about three minutes.

District Judge Chris R. Carnahan ordered Monday afternoon that Olvera remain behind bars in the Faulkner County Detention Center in lieu of a $100,000 bond.

During the first appearance hearing held via video arraignment on Monday, deputy prosecutor Cody Arnold also requested the 26-year-old Conway man be barred from going anywhere near other children.

The district judge approved Arnold’s request and also issued a no contact order that would keep him from communicating with the alleged victim.

“Mr. Olvera, you are prohibited from being anywhere that children might congregate,” Carnahan said.

The 26-year-old Conway man is scheduled to appear next on June 22 in Faulkner County Circuit Court for a plea and arraignment hearing before Circuit Judge Charles “Ed” Clawson Jr.

UCA announces honors, university scholars

The University of Central Arkansas Honors College has selected 76 incoming first-year students as its newest class of Norbert O. Schedler Honors College Scholars and 31 incoming first-year students for its University Scholars Program.

The entering Schedler Honors College Scholars and University Scholars classes of 2020 have an average high school GPA above 4.0 and an average ACT score of 30. The Honors College class includes 102 students from Arkansas and five students from out-of-state. A quarter of the incoming cohort are first-generation college students.

All members of the incoming honors class were selected using a holistic admissions process that factors in the applicant’s academic performance, writing ability, and service and leadership potential. The process, which requires written essays, letters of recommendation, and participation in a daylong orientation and interview for Schedler Honors College applicants, has held up within the national collegiate honors community as one of the most thorough admissions processes in the nation.

Acceptance into the Schedler Honors College comes with access to UCA’s top scholarship, access to a living/learning community in Jefferson W. Farris Honors Hall and participation in a unique interdisciplinary curriculum with ample opportunities for service learning, project-based education, collaborative work, undergraduate research, travel abroad opportunities and internship support. Students in the Schedler Honors College average approximately 1,000 cumulative hours of community service annually. Honors Scholars participate in a unique interdisciplinary curriculum that focuses on the individual growth and transformation of each student while preparing them to be leaders in their chosen fields.

Established in 1982 by Norbert O. Schedler under the leadership of then-President Jefferson Farris Jr., the Schedler Honors College at UCA has become one of the most full-featured in the nation and is a leader in providing enhanced educational opportunities in a living/learning environment designed to develop students as citizen-scholars.

Now in its third year, the University Scholars Program is a four-year honors program that operates alongside the Norbert O. Schedler Honors College. Acceptance into the University Scholars Program comes with an academic stipend and access to a living-learning community in Jefferson W. Farris Honors Hall. Students in the University Scholars Program have opportunities to participate in service-learning projects, leadership training and undergraduate research, with the goal of developing them as socially responsible leaders within their chosen field. The program was started in 2018 under the leadership of Honors College Dean Patricia Smith and UCA President Houston Davis.

The names and schools of each Honors College student in Faulkner County follows.

Faulkner County Schedler Honors Scholars:

Jake Bridgers, Conway High School

Emily Briggler, St. Joseph High School

Joslyn Bruenger, Conway High School

Kyra Butler, Conway High School

Lillian Clark, Conway High School West

Carraig Craun, Conway High School

Marshall Cunningham, Conway Christian High School

Griffin Deitrick, Conway High School

Kristina Jones, homeschooled in Conway

Wyatt Lawrence, Conway Christian High School

Rodrigo McCarthy-Galvan, Conway High School

Allysia Rainey, Conway High School

Alan Rathmann, Conway High School

Francesca Redditt, Conway High School

Faulkner County University Scholars:

Nicholas Brorman, St. Joseph High School

Emma Dunlap, Conway High School

Abbie Flake, St. Joseph High Schoo.

Lakyn Phillips, Mayflower High School

To view the full list of scholars, visit uca.edu.