Less than a week after fired Faulkner County Sheriff’s Office deputy Eugene Watlington was charged with battery regarding an arrest following a high-speed chase in May, the Log Cabin Democrat on Wednesday received emails and other correspondence through the Freedom of Information Act that indicate Conway police officers who assisted were uncomfortable with Watlington’s and other FCSO deputies’ actions that night.
"After MEMS had looked at the suspect, I saw numerous Deputies standing around laughing, joking, and fist bumping, and giving each other ‘high fives,’" Conway Police Department (CPD) Lt. Glen Cooper wrote in an interdepartmental memo to Maj. Larry Hearn on May 5.
In his memo, Cooper writes that he confronted an FCSO supervisor on scene, informing him "he needed to break his deputies up."
"I told him that people were filming and it would look bad for his agency," the memo stated. "I suggested he assign them perimeter duties until their investigation was completed."
The memo was in response to FCSO deputies’ conduct following a high-speed car chase beginning in Mayflower and ending at an apartment complex at the intersection of Hairston Avenue and Clifton Street in Conway.
Video captured on a Mayflower police officer’s body camera of the incident led to an internal investigation of the FCSO and ultimately to a federal color of law investigation that is ongoing at the time of this report. Footage showed Watlington kicking suspect Harvey Martin III, who had been working as an unofficial confidential informant with the CPD drug taskforce in locating Arkansas Parole Board absconder Christopher James "Lil Man" Cummings.
After then-Sheriff Andy Shock and then-Chief Deputy Matt Rice arrived on scene, Cooper pulled them aside and informed them of the deputies’ conduct, according to Cooper’s memo.
Two officers with the CPD’s drug task force who had been working with Martin informed Cooper, Shock, Rice and Watlington they were headed to the hospital to speak with Martin after Cooper confronted FCSO.
"The Deputy identified as Eugene then said something like, ‘Yeah, you don’t want me to interview him. He doesn’t like me right now.’ He stated this a couple of times and each time would shine his flashlight at the toe of his boot. The Sheriff replied, ‘Yeah, he probable doesn’t like you right now,’" the memo stated.
In a text message conversation with former Police Chief A.J. Gary the day after the incident, Shock said he felt like Mayflower police officer Dalton Elliott at one point pulled FCSO deputies out of the way to get better footage.
Gary sent Shock a message May 5 asking to visit with him to discuss the May 4 incident and "one video you need to know about."
"He even tried pulling one of our guys off the pile to get better video," Shock said, referring to Elliott’s footage.
"That’s the one we got late yesterday. Our folks are required to do ADR’s [Arrest Disposition Resolution] on all defense actions. We are getting them and incident reports together. I think Dalton was trying to get them off the guy. He even asked our Lt. For assistance and our Lt. Told the deputies to get him up and in the car," Gary replied.
The footage ultimately led to Watlington’s termination.
He was fired July 10 and a special prosecutor charged him with third-degree battery on March 21.
Watlington, 43, of Vilonia turned himself in to authorities Friday and was released on a $1,090 bond. A court date has not yet been set.
A July 16 email from Hearn to four other CPD officers that was provided to the Log Cabin on Wednesday said: "I hate to say it but I figured that was going to happen. Eugene will be their ‘Sin Eater’ and take the hits. [Faulkner County Prosecuting Attorney] Cody [Hiland] will not charge them but may charge Eugene. This is only my opinion but it would not surprise me. To me there should have been others."
The Log Cabin requested on Wednesday via the FOIA subsequent emails to the thread "Re: Interesting" between Hearn and CPD officers Tom Kennedy, Robert Berry, Angelina Loeschner and Todd Wesbecher.
Hiland previously told the Log Cabin that Faulkner County prosecutors did not pursue the incident because it 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."
City Attorney Chuck Clawson said the city recused itself because city employees were involved in the incident and Prosecuting Attorney Tom Tatum II of Yell County was appointed to determine whether misdemeanor charges should be filed against Watlington.
The Log Cabin will continue to follow this story as more information becomes available.
(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)