LITTLE ROCK (AP) — A state senator apologized on Tuesday for leading authorities on what they called a high-speed chase through two counties and received a standing ovation from his fellow senators a day after a sheriff’s deputy let him off with a scolding because he believed the lawmaker was granted immunity by Arkansas’ constitution.
A Perry County deputy sheriff said Republican Sen. Bruce Holland of Greenwood reached speeds of more than 100 miles per hour during the chase on Highway 10 in Perry and Yell counties on Monday afternoon. Holland was let off with a warning by the deputy, who said Tuesday he’ll recommend the county seek criminal charges against the lawmaker.
"I was speeding and I made a mistake. I truly regret any embarrassment I may have caused my family, friends and fellow legislators," Holland said in a statement released by the Senate press office Tuesday morning. "No one is above the law, and I take responsibility for my actions."
Holland received a standing ovation Tuesday afternoon after making similar comments on the Senate floor. Senate President Paul Bookout said he didn’t think Holland should face any disciplinary action from the chamber for the incident.
Deputy Ray Byrd said that he reached speeds of 110 miles per hour Monday before Holland was stopped in the town of Ola. Holland said he never saw the deputy and didn’t know how fast he was going. Holland initially denied driving at more than 100 miles per hour, but told reporters Tuesday he didn’t know how fast he was going.
Byrd said he initially thought Holland was exempt from arrest because of a provision in the state Constitution. The provision says that legislators "shall, in all cases except treason, felony and breach or surety of the peace, be privileged from arrest during their attendance at the sessions of their respective houses, and in gong and returning from the same."
But Gov. Mike Beebe, as attorney general in 2003, issued a legal opinion that said that provision didn’t give lawmakers blanket immunity from being arrested.
"In my opinion, a legislator may be cited or arrested for any criminal offense, felony, misdemeanor or otherwise, going to or returning from a legislative session," Beebe’s office wrote in the opinion. "The applicable constitutional provision and Arkansas statute, each of which was adopted well over a century ago, immunize members of the General Assembly only from arrest in civil actions."
Byrd said Tuesday that he was driving an unmarked pickup truck when Holland passed him speeding. He said he pursued Holland with his lights flashing for about 15 or 16 miles on the two-lane highway passing through residential areas.
Byrd said he didn’t realize Holland was a state senator until he saw him wearing a name tag with his title on it, and let him off with a stern warning.
"I told him I was absolutely ashamed of him. I told him he needed to drop his head in shame," Byrd said.
Prosecutor Larry Jegley said he wouldn’t second guess the deputy’s actions, but said he thinks Beebe’s opinion clears up that lawmakers aren’t immune.
"I think the privilege is really an archaic and outdated vestige of less civilized time in the state’s history," Jegley said.
Byrd apologized Tuesday and said he was wrong to let Holland off with a warning. Byrd said he considered Holland’s apology a political statement and planned to recommend to the sheriff and prosecutors that they seek criminal charges.
"There’s no doubt in my mind he saw me behind him," Byrd said.
Holland defeated Democrat John Paul Wells in November in the race for the 6th District, which includes portions of the west Arkansas counties of Johnson, Logan, Polk, Scott and Sebastian.
Holland told reporters afterward that he didn’t ask for any immunity when he was pulled over.
"If they see that I need to pay a fine, I’d be happy to pay a fine," Holland said.