BENTON COUNTY (KFSM) -- The police chiefs and mayors of Rogers and Bentonville sent a memo to the members of the Benton County Quorum Court Monday (April 25) expressing concerns about the way county deputies operate their vehicles and manage and communicate during "sting" operations conducted within city limits.
Rogers Mayor Greg Hines, Rogers Police Chief Hayes Minor, Bentonville Mayor Bob McCaslin and Bentonville Police Chief Jon Simpson are all listed on the memo.
The concerns listed in the memo include deputies causing accidents, driving recklessly, speeding in excess of 100 miles per hour during emergency responses on crowded streets and highways, mismanaging "sting" operations, and not communicating with city police departments during such operations leading to panic from nearby residents.
The memo states: "These instances are chilling, and if this behavior continues, it is not a matter of it, but rather when a citizen is killed as a consequence."
According to the memo, law enforcement leadership in both Rogers and Bentonville relayed those concerns to former Benton County Sheriff Kelley Cradduck with either no response or a response that failed to recognize the significance of the issues.
The memo states: "The Sheriff's Office has a number of outstanding deputies that we would be proud to work beside each day. However, there are some individuals and units within that office that are demonstrating reckless behavior further complicated by a continuing lack of leadership."
It also lists several specific incidents in Bentonville and Rogers over the last several months where the police chiefs and mayors felt deputies behaved in a way that undermined public trust.
The following incidents occurred in Bentonville:
- Oct. 13, 2015: around 1 p.m. a deputy in an unmarked vehicle responded to suspicious activity in Lowell that resulted in a three-vehicle accident at SE 14th Street and SE J Street. An investigation found the deputy's actions were a contributing factor in the accident.
- Dec. 16, 2015: around 7 a.m. a deputy in a marked vehicle who was attempting to make a traffic stop made a u-turn maneuver that resulted in a two-vehicle accident at SW 14th Street and Tunbridge Street. An investigation found the deputy's actions were a contributing factor in the accident.
- Jan. 28, 2016: around 1 p.m. a deputy in an unmarked vehicle responded to an incident in the Gravette area that resulted in a three-vehicle accident at SW 14th Street and Tunbridge Street. An investigation found the deputy was driving in excess of 100 miles per hour with reckless driving both in the center turn lane and the opposite lane of traffic. The Bentonville Police Department received citizen complaints regarding other deputies that were likewise responding to the incident. The complaint described another unmarked vehicle driving in excess of 100 miles per hour. An investigation found that deputy had also been driving recklessly in Bentonville even though the incident the deputy was responding to was occurring near the Oklahoma border.
The following incidents occurred in Rogers:
- Dec. 29, 2015: during the afternoon hours deputies initiated a "sting" operation during which the suspects fled the area with deputies giving chase. After losing the suspects' vehicle, deputies were reported to be traveling at extremely high speeds through the city in search of the vehicle. When the suspects were located deputies once again gave chase resulting in a resident being involved in a collision at South 8th Street and Price Lane. No deputies stopped to check on the welfare of the people involved in the collision. The suspects then crashed at Dixieland Road and Price Lane and fled on foot, but none of the deputies secured the scene of the crash. It wasn't until half-an-hour later that a Rogers officer came across the scene and secured it.
- Feb. 3, 2016: around 8:15 p.m. a deputy stopped a vehicle in a residential neighborhood when the passenger fled the scene. The response from the sheriff's office, which included responding to the scene at extremely high speeds, blocking entrances to neighborhoods and bringing in a helicopter, caused alarm among the residents that led to more 64 calls to Rogers dispatch.
- April 21, 2016: another "sting" operation attempted by deputies involved a high-speed pursuit through residential neighborhoods of Rogers reaching speeds of nearly 70 miles an hour on Olrich Street. The Rogers Police Department wasn't made aware of the operation until it was over.
- April 22, 2016: deputies again attempted a sting operation in Rogers. The sheriff's office notified Rogers dispatch shortly before midnight about an operation deputies would be conducting in the parking lot of a Walmart on Pleasant Grove Road, which is open 24/7. The requesting deputy asked that Rogers officers stay out of the area. Less than 10 minutes later, Rogers officers were notified that shows had been fired in the parking lot.
To read the full memo, click here.
Benton County Judge Bob Clinard said the complaints are nothing new.
"I had heard of a couple of incidents, but not this scope," he said.
Clinard added that the police chiefs and mayors are just concerned about their residents.
"[These men] didn't have any political motivation to do that," he said. "They are genuinely concerned about the safety of the people in Benton County and these cities."
The memo concludes: "It is our wish that you would address all of the above concerns when selecting the interim Sheriff. It is also our hope that the candidate selected will ensure a safe, professional and responsible law enforcement environment for the citizens of Benton County."
And Rogers Police Chief Hayes Minor released this statement: "I think the letter speaks for itself. We have expressed our concerns to the Quorum Court, and we believe that the new sheriff should be given the opportunity to understand the issues and develop a strategy to correct those issues."
On Monday (April 25), the Benton County Quorum Court selection committee voted to appoint Meyers Gilbert as interim sheriff. The full Quorum Court will vote on whether to appoint him to the position on Thursday.
The sheriff's office was left vacant after Kelley Cradduck submitted a letter of resignation to the Quorum Court April 11. The following day the Justices of the Peace voted to approve $80,000 for a buyout. On April 15, the Quorum Court approved Cradduck’s resignation and began the search for an interim sheriff.