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You may have heard about the plight of a small delta town called Jericho and its assistant fire chief Don Payne. It’s had a few mentions on the news networks and a couple appearances on the AP feed … and I dedicated a post to the story a couple weeks back (Holy Jericho).

For a quick re-cap of events: while in a court hearing over a traffic ticket issued to his son, Don Payne and at least one member of the Jericho Police Department got in an argument stemming from illegal traffic tickets issued to Payne and other residents of Jericho. A scuffle ensued and Payne was shot in the hip by Officer Eric Pharr of the Jericho Police Department. He was hospitalized in Memphis and underwent a five-hour surgery to remove the .40 caliber bullet which had lodged in his hip bone. He was recently released in good health but still requires the use crutches. Following the shooting, Jericho Police Chief Willie Frazier temporarily disbanded the police force and the entire department remains under investigation.

But no charges have been filed against Officer Eric Pharr, who fired on an unarmed Don Payne in front of six other police officers and presiding judge Tonya Alexander (who quickly resigned her post). The Crittenden County Sheriff’s Office, which began investigating other questionable Jericho police acts, has reported no progress in the investigation and has shared little of the information collected about the courtroom incident.

Unfortunately, a gunshot wound was only the beginning for Mr. Payne. Days after being released from the hospital, Jericho Mayor Helen Adams officially dismissed him as assistant fire chief. “As it comes to my attention of the improper behavior that you displayed,” she wrote in his letter of termination. “You have disgrace my name as Mayor.” And to top it off, arrest warrants were issued for his arrest. Let me repeat that: the police issued warrants for the arrest of Don Payne after he was shot by a police officer during court proceedings about the legality of the police department’s actions.

And Officer Pharr, who wounded another officer in the shooting, has not received so much as a reprimand. In fact, he’s back on the beat, writing tickets and patrolling the city as usual. Despite Police Chief Frazier’s promise to disband the police force until the investigation was completed, the department re-assembled after little more than a week apart and resumed their “duties.”

The decision not to prosecute Officer Pharr apparently fell to West Memphis City Prosecutor Lindsey Fairley, who supported the officers’ right to detain the former assistant fire chief. Apparently by whatever means necessary. It was also Fairley who decided to levy the charges on Don Payne. The charges – two counts of felony battery – allege that Payne assaulted Police Chief Willie Frazier by shoving him backward, and then reached for Officer Eric Pharr’s weapon. Which Payne vehemently denies. Thomas Martin, the chief investigator for the Crittenden County Sheriff’s Department heading up the on-going investigation of Jericho’s police force, confirmed not only that the warrants had been issued but that the police claimed Don Payne was reaching for Eric Pharr’s weapon when he was shot. Early reports noted that the bullet struck Don Payne from behind, which was corroborated in the wound as seen in this video (at the :30 mark). But that angle of approach would make reaching for the pistol improbable if not impossible, a particular of the case that no one in authority has yet commented on.

And although the arrest warrants have been issued, they have not been served. Jericho police are back on the streets and are clearly aware of Don Payne’s residence but have made no attempt to take him into custody. “I’m sitting right here just waiting,” Mr. Payne shared from his front porch during a short interview with one Memphis reporter. “I’m not a fugitive.”

Randy Fishman, of the Memphis law firm Ballin Ballin and Fishman, was secured as Don Payne’s legal counsel shortly after the shooting and maintains that the police were not acting in the public’s best interest. “I think an officer should be trained in not only how a weapon should be used but when a weapon should be used,” Mr. Fishman said. He reiterated that pulling a pistol on an unarmed civilian surrounded by police showed poor judgement, and that firing it was negligent at best. “If anyone should be charged with a felony here, it should start with the officer who pulled the gun.” He has also stated that they are prepared to fight any charges arising from this unfortunate circumstance.

And though he is no longer Jericho’s assistant fire chief, the rest of the Volunteer Fire Department fully support him. All 19 members quit the department en masse on hearing of Payne’s dismissal.

On September 9th, the mayor and city council had a “secret meeting” but none will speak to the press about that meeting, the incident, or even the original allegations of police corruption in Jericho. Various reporters have attempted to speak with city officials but met stiff opposition, including a police response.

With a bit of digging, I unearthed the phone number of Jericho City Hall and repeatedly rang it myself … to no avail. The same was true of the Crittenden County Sheriff’s Office. (I hate to think if I lived in the county and tried to ring their offices with an actual problem.) But I take this as a good sign. Because if they aren’t talking, it means they are concerned, and if they are concerned then – just maybe – they have something be concerned about.

I intend to follow this case and update on it when news becomes available. And in the meantime, godspeed to Mr. Payne and Mr. Fishman.

~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~

Related articles and information:

CBS News

Memphis ABC News

KAIT 8 short and video

Original AP article

Payne’s Wife Speaks

Jonathan Turley’s Blog

Jericho City Hall Phone Number: 870-739-3884

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In the flatland of Arkansas’s Mississippi delta rests a small town named Jericho. Just off the interstate and home to less than 200 people, motorists generally pass it by on I-55 without a moment’s notice. Unless you’re driving through town, that is.

“You can’t even buy a loaf of bread, but we’ve got seven police officers,” said former resident Larry Harris.

Some news broadcasts confirm only six but at either count, those police officers were well-known for their propensity to write tickets, to such an extent that many locals and passers-through called the town a blatant speed trap. Among other infringements, officers also routinely wrote tickets while well out of their jurisdiction and for actions which are not illegal. Larry Harris, quoted above, moved away from Jericho to escape law enforcement’s heavy hand there. Another resident stayed in Jericho but agreed that the police were prolific ticketers.

“They wrote me a ticket for going 58 mph in my driveway,” said Albert Beebe, a 75-year-old retiree.

On August 27, the issue came to a head. Local Volunteer Fire Chief Don Payne was issued a traffic ticket and disputed it in court but failed to get it dismissed. He was ticketed again later that day and returned to court to dispute it. This time he let his unvarnished opinions fly in front of the judge and the attending police officers.

At some point, it developed into an argument between Volunteer Fire Chief Don Payne and the police, all of whom attended the proceedings. The argument then turned into a scuffle and Payne was shot. That’s right, in the middle of a court in session, in full view of the presiding judge, a Jericho police officer drew a pistol and fired on the unarmed fire chief.

The bullet grazed another officer and struck Don Payne in the hip. He was transported to the Memphis Regional Medical Center and is currently in good condition.

Presiding judge Tonya Alexander voided all outstanding tickets issued by the Jericho police force for the month prior and, following the incident, resigned from her position. Police Chief Willie Frazier disbanded the force for the time being and the Crittenden County Sheriff’s Office took over policing duties in the area. The identity of the officer who shot Volunteer Fire Chief Don Payne has not been released and Payne is not speaking out on the issue. No charges have been filed against anyone, but Police Chief Willie Frazier and the former police department are now under investigation.

And not just for the shooting. It seems Jericho police had a funding problem. Despite writing unusually high numbers of tickets, which should have generated a lot of income for the town, one of the Jericho cruisers and one of its fire trucks were repossessed. (I have a feeling the loss of that fire truck may have had something to do with the fire chief’s growing displeasure with the police force.) To date, the police have issued no statements and provided no records indicating where the funds may have gone, not even to the sheriff’s office and investigators. Allegations point toward officers pocketing the money themselves. Police Chief Willie Frazier is also said to have used town vehicles for personal use, including repeatedly driving his squad car on 140-mile round-trip excursions to Atoka, Tennessee. The investigation is just getting started.

I believe, in Jericho, walls are about to come down.

You can read more in the AP article or listen to short reports from the regional news station here.

I tagged this as humorous – which it is – but at the same time I am completely disgusted by this reviling excuse for a police department. How many years have they defrauded the public? How many thousands have they illegally collected? And I cannot believe this whole set-up did not raise some eyebrows at county level long before now. Why wasn’t someone with authority asking questions? Just how many towns with a population under 200 can afford half a dozen police? One town I live near has a population of over 400, contains several businesses, and can afford two.

That impossible people-to-police ratio must have attracted attention. The Crittenden County Sheriff’s Office was very familiar with Jericho police, just eight miles away, and it was even reported that Jericho police often left their cruisers at the Sheriff’s Office overnight to avoid vandals. This wasn’t a podunk outpost in a far corner of the county; this was just off the interstate, eight miles down the road, and the officers drove right into the sheriff’s parking lot.

As in most cases, I’d say the corruption surfacing in Jericho is just part of a larger tangle of malfeasance. The real questions, I suppose, is how far the tangle reaches, what all it ensnares, and how many other towns – all across the country – live with one eerily like it on their own streets.

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