Ducks

Jan. 15, 2009

by Jacob Quinn Sanders
Arkansas Democrat-Gazette

Time and again, Larry Staley of Sherwood fired bullets at people on his property, authorities say, until a dead body with a gunshot wound led to charges of manslaughter and felon in possession of a firearm.

But before that trial begins in Pulaski County Circuit Court next week, Staley had to negotiate his release Wednesday from the city jail in Sherwood, after a judge on Tuesday ordered the 67-year-old to serve 60 days.

The charge: possession of too many ducks.

“It really didn’t have to come to this,” said Robin Breaux, Sherwood’s director of animal services. “I mean it seems like it would be basic common sense to do what’s right and stay out of jail, but sometimes common sense doesn’t prevail.”

A recording at Staley’s phone number Wednesday night said the service had been disconnected.

Staley’s Sherwood attorney, Mike Powell, said he was hired to get Staley out of jail and is not involved with anything having to do with ducks.

“I don’t know what I could tell you,” Powell said. “Sounds like an interesting case, though.”

Staley’s property at 10701 Arkansas 107 shares a pond with several other surrounding properties. Staley and another property owner bought baby ducks last year for fun, Breaux said.

Then things got out of control.

The ducks mated. Then came more baby ducks. Then came wild ducks to share the land and the water with the domesticated ducks.

What were “some” became 40, sometimes as many as 60, Breaux said. And they all seemed to like a certain neighbor’s backyard.

“That poor lady,” Breaux said. “They ate all her grass and made mud holes and all the droppings they left behind — it really became a health issue.”

The situation, however, had still not escalated into what Breaux called an “ordeal.”

The city of Sherwood has an ordinance “prohibiting the running at large of animals and fowls.” Breaux’s department worked with the property owners to corral and remove from the pond as many ducks as possible.

“Most everybody cooperated,” she said.

But not Staley.

In late April, a Sherwood district court judge ordered that Staley keep no more than six ducks on his land, records show.

In July, two days after a judge allowed the neighbor to install “bird-bangers” to keep the ducks away, authorities say Staley and his wife spray-painted the complaining neighbor’s fence in red. Photos in the court file document the vandalism.

“Duck! Duck! Goose!” was painted in one area.

“DUCK LAND” was painted on another portion of the fence.

In several spots, red duck hieroglyphs were spray-painted.

“Mr. Staley and his wife, they had no problem letting us know that they were the ones who decorated the fence,” Breaux said.

As September was ending, things remained status quo. After the neighbor complained again and described seeing more baby ducks, Breaux sent an officer to serve Staley with an order to appear in the city’s district court.

“I made contact with Mr. Staley about the number of ducks at his home on Monday morning September 29th 2008,” the animal control officer wrote in a report. “I was cursed by Mr. Staley and had the door slammed as I served him a mandatory court citation for November 4th, 2008. I left the property without further incident.”

The duck case wasn’t Staley’s first encounter with Sherwood authorities.

The year before, Sherwood police investigated several of Staley’s reports that he had fired warning shots when he thought people were stealing all-terrain vehicles from his property.

Then one night in October 2007, authorities said, when Staley thought he heard people prowling around on his property, he went outside and again fired his gun.

The next day he found a body. An autopsy confirmed that Bryant Cross, 18, died of a gunshot wound.

Staley told the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette at the time that he saw a white man and a man in a dark hooded sweatshirt that night. He said he fired toward the white man, who charged at him. A Sherwood assistant police chief, Norman Golden, since retired, said then that Staley claimed to have fired into the air.

Sherwood police charged him with manslaughter and as a felon in possession of a firearm in January 2008. As the second charge suggests, Staley had a record. He had served almost a decade in a Texas prison for child sexual abuse and for violating his parole involving photographs of a 16-year-old girl.

In November, Sherwood court records show, he still had not complied with a judge’s order to clean up the duck-related graffiti, to stop hand-feeding ducks, to remove all the duck eggs he could find on his land and to reduce his flock to six.

Tuesday was Staley’s next court hearing. He hadn’t done what the judge told him to do. So Judge Milas “Butch” Hale III found Staley in contempt of court and sent him to jail for 60 days. His lawyer, Powell, learned just after 5 p.m. Wednesday that he had been released.

“This was supposed to happen yesterday, but I guess today’s the day,” Powell said.

In the meantime, the city’s animal control department has large live-catch traps stocked with grain around the pond.

“We have not yet caught any of the ducks,” Breaux said. “We’re trying. I don’t know what we’re going to do if we don’t get to them before the spring.”

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