A Vilonia Police Department officer has been suspended with pay while being investigated for allegedly unlawful and vindictive traffic stops and searches.
The Faulkner County Sheriff’s Office took two complaints alleging wrongdoing by VPD officer Steven Carpenter. In one complaint, a father claims that Carpenter sent a text message to his teenage son’s phone that read, "I know you have a suspended license and I will pull you over every time I see you."
The father claims that the text messages and harassing behavior started after his son rudely insulted Carpenter’s daughter, according to the report.
On July 14, a report taken by FCSO states, the father received a phone call from his son saying that he was being pulled over near the Subway restaurant in Vilonia. When the father got to the scene of the stop, the report states, Carpenter said that he’d pulled him over because of the suspended license and arrested the teen after the teen declined to consent to a vehicle search.
The father also wouldn’t consent to a search, the report states, and "Officer Carpenter then shoved [the father] up against the truck and forced his arm behind his back.
"[The father] then felt something stick him in the back and Officer Carpenter told him to drop the keys or he would be tased." The father dropped the keys, and Carpenter unlocked the truck, reached in, and "immediately yelled out ‘I got you now!’ and pulled out a tiny [vial] filled with a leafy green substance," the report states.
The teen kicked out the back window of Carpenter’s patrol car while his father was struggling with the officer, according to the report.
The alleged use of the taser and arm lock to coerce the father to unlock the truck, if true, could be grounds for a third-degree assault charge. Generally, law enforcement officers can’t be charged with harassment if the claimed harassing conduct is "within the reasonable scope of his [or her] duty while conducting surveillance on an official work assignment." Arkansas Code Annotated § 5-71-208(c).
The father also claims that on July 15th Carpenter saw him talking to two young Vilonia women, friends of his son, who had made a complaint of their own about Carpenter to FCSO, according to the report. Carpenter handcuffed one of the women talking to the father, and said "I know what your (sic) doing, why are you talking to them?," according to the report, and told the father that he wasn’t allowed to be on Ridgeway Drive and had to leave the "private neighborhood." The neighborhood is a subdivision and the streets are public.
According to a report taken by FCSO on July 14, the woman claims Carpenter stopped a car she was riding in that morning for a burned-out taillight and asked her and the driver questions about the driver’s boyfriend before ordering her out of the car and fondling her crotch during a pat-down search for weapons. Carpenter told the driver that if she left the scene of the traffic stop he would arrest her for fleeing, and came and went several times in a stop that lasted more than an hour.
Generally speaking, a traffic stop may be unlawful if it lasts longer than 15 minutes without a good reason for the delay (this is not a firm rule, but rather a rule of thumb and can vary depending on what’s being investigated during the stop and other circumstances). The allegation of fondling may, if true, be grounds for a second-degree sexual assault charge.
The driver of this car also reported that on July 15 she waved at Carpenter, who arrested her and cited her for disorderly conduct, claiming that she’d made an obscene hand gesture.
The reports have been turned over to the 20th Judicial District prosecutor’s office and the Arkansas State Police have been contacted to investigate the claims.
Carpenter was hired in December, 2012. Vilonia Mayor James Firestone said on Tuesday that the allegations against the officer are being taken seriously, and that "anytime we get something like that we’re going to look into it." Vilonia Chief of Police Brad McNew said on Wednesday that his department would "do what needs to be done" when the investigation is finished.