A special prosecutor filed a misdemeanor battery charge against a former Faulkner County Sheriff’s Office (FCSO) deputy who was terminated for using excessive force in the arrests following a high-speed car chase last May. Eugene Watlington was terminated after the FCSO reviewed footage captured on a Mayflower officer’s body camera.
City Attorney Chuck Clawson said the city recused itself from the case against Watlington "because [the Conway Police Department was] involved in the chase and [was] in the proximity to the events that took place afterward" and requested a special prosecutor.
Tom Tatum II of the Yell County Prosecuting Attorney’s Office, which also represents Logan, Scott and Conway counties, was appointed special prosecutor to determine whether misdemeanor charges should be filed against Watlington.
Faulkner County Prosecuting Attorney Cody Hiland said the incident did not warrant felony charges, therefore it was handed over to the city "to determine if any misdemeanor should be filed and to the [FBI] to determine if a ‘color of law’ violation had occurred."
"The criminal investigative file initiated by the FCSO was forwarded to the 20th Judicial District Prosecuting Attorney’s Office for review," Hiland said. "After subpoena of the medical records in the case, it was determined that no ‘serious physical injury’ as defined by Arkansas law occurred, which is a required element to file felony battery charges."
Watlington, 43, of Vilonia was ultimately charged Monday with third-degree battery, a Class A misdemeanor that is punishable by up to one year in prison and a $2,500 fine. Tatum issued a no contact order against Watlington and the man he was videotaped kicking and also requested Watlington’s bond be set at $1,090.
Footage of the May 4 incident, which led to an internal and federal investigation, was recorded by Mayflower police officer Dalton Elliott. Elliott captured footage of the chase and arrest of Harvey Martin III, 46, on his body camera. The FBI, the U.S. attorney’s office and the U.S. Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division launched a color of law investigation regarding the officers’ — Watlington, Martin Clifford, Darrell Freeman, Brint Romley and Chris Meyers — arrests of Christopher James "Lil Man" Cummings, 29 and Martin.
Cummings’ arrest was not videotaped. FCSO’s internal investigation concluded July 10 with then-Sheriff Andy Shock firing Watlington.
Sheriff Matt Rice told the Log Cabin Democrat on Tuesday that Watlington "just got out of surgery" but has told prosecutors he would turn himself over to the FCSO on Friday.
"I have no reason to believe he wouldn’t," Rice said. The James Law Firm in Little Rock represents Watlington in the matter. Tatum said Watlington’s court date would most likely be set for the next available arraignment day after he turns himself in.
(Staff writer Marisa Hicks can be reached by email at firstname.lastname@example.org or by phone at 505-1277. To comment on this and other stories in the Log Cabin, log on to www.thecabin.net. Send us your news at www.thecabin.net/submit)