Lying about the crash

Feb. 19, 2010

By Jacob Quinn Sanders
Arkansas Democrat-Gazette

The Pulaski County sheriff’s office fired a deputy and suspended a volunteer deputy after an investigation found the deputy lied about the speed that their patrol car was going before it slammed into an overturned Toyota they had been pursuing, according to documents obtained Thursday.

Chief Deputy Mike Lowery fired Deputy Tim Files and suspended Reserve Deputy David Douglas for 30 days after meeting with both men Wednesday.

“The speed limit is posted at 35 MPH,” Lowery wrote in Files’ termination letter. “The patrol car’s Crash Data Recorder shows that the patrol car was traveling 94 MPH five seconds prior to the crash. One second prior to air bag deployment, the patrol car was traveling 75 MPH.”

Files and Douglas received minor injuries in the crash, which occurred Jan. 9 a little after 10:30 p.m. on East Justice Road. Sheriff’s office spokesman John Rehrauer identified the driver of the wrecked Toyota as Leighton Richards, 21. He was hurt more severely than the deputies, though it is unclear what his precise injuries were. His name appears nowhere in the documents. He could not be reached for comment Thursday, nor could Douglas or Files.

Not long before the crash, Files and Douglas pulled out onto the road, Files behind the wheel, and started following a black Toyota, according to a sheriff’s office report. Nothing in the report indicates why Files and Douglas decided to follow the Toyota. Rehrauer said he did not know.

Then the Toyota accelerated. So did Files.

The Toyota pulled away and Files tried to catch up, leaving his lights and siren off. Technically, it was not an active pursuit, according to sheriff’s office policy.

Around a dark bend on East Justice Road, the Toyota crashed, overturning in the roadway.

According to his termination letter, Files told investigators that he did not go faster than 71 miles an hour. Shortly before the impact, Files told them he slowed to 50 or 55 miles an hour.

The patrol car’s crash computer said otherwise.

Lowery found that Files violated four of the sheriff’s office’s 21 Uniform Standards of Conduct: committing unsafe acts, dishonesty or untruthfulness, not knowing and following all rules, and not taking proper care of equipment.

“As a result of this finding, you are hereby ‘Terminated’ from employment with the Pulaski County Sheriff’s Office, effective this date,” Lowery wrote.

An 18-year veteran of law enforcement in Arkansas, Files had worked for the sheriff’s office since April 2008.

The letter suspending Douglas through March 18 indicates that Lowery first considered an untruthfulness charge. But after meeting with Douglas he settled instead on the one about knowing and following rules.

“You are also admonished that if future events of a similar nature occur, more severe sanctions may be imposed,” Lowery wrote.

Douglas has served with the sheriff’s office for less than a year.

It was Files, however, who had already been given a second chance.

The 40-year-old former Pine Bluff police officer spent 13 years with the North Little Rock Police Department, records show, before he quit in August 2007. The month before, a woman Files knew accused him of ripping her leopard-print tank top and hurting her left shoulder before hitting her in the face, according to a Sherwood police report.

The woman’s roommate told Sherwood police that Files also drove off in his North Little Rock patrol car after drinking alcohol, according to the report.

No charges were filed.

North Little Rock Police Chief Danny Bradley declined to comment on whether Files was under departmental investigation when he resigned. Asked if it made sense that the Sherwood police report triggered a North Little Rock police investigation that would not have run its course before Files’ departure, Bradley said, “There is plenty of logic in what you say.”

Resigning during an internal investigation is grounds for the Arkansas Commission on Law Enforcement Standards and Training to revoke an officer’s certification. And while personnel files of fired officers are generally public under Arkansas law, those of officers who resign are not.

Lowery declined an interview request to discuss why the sheriff’s office hired Files. Rehrauer said Lowery was aware of North Little Rock’s investigation of Files when he offered Files a job.

“It was his opinion that Files deserved an opportunity to redeem himself,” Rehrauer said.

  1. Matt Davis says:

    Redemption in law enforcement seems a little from the kind I’m used to.

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