Welcome to Sulphur Springs, Where the Police Chief is a Murderer (William Norman Grigg)
Thursday March 28th, 2013
Like many third-world countries, Arkansas is a beautiful place inhabited by lovely people who are burdened with an extravagantly corrupt ruling class. This helps explain, but by no means does it justify, the fact that the minuscule town of Sulphur Springs, Arkansas now has a convicted killer as its police chief.
In January 2010, Coleman Brackney, at the time an officer in the department that menaces nearby Bella Vista, murdered a man named James Ahern following a high-speed chase. After trapping Ahern’s vehicle and then pounding on his window, Brackney shot him six times – the last time in the back. Brackney claimed that Ahern – who had a record of trivial and petty offenses, including the non-crime of “resisting arrest” – attempted to run him over after the chase had ended. This was a lie, of course: The dashcam video documented that Brackney was never in danger.
By any honest definition, this was an act of murder. Yet Brackney was prosecuted for “negligent homicide” – a charge that assumes that the officer, who shot Ahern six times at point-blank range, including once in the back, did not intend to kill the victim. He was sentenced to a single month in the Benton County Jail and fined $1,000. The families of the victim were given a $20,000 settlement by the county.
After Brackney was released, his criminal record was expunged. Last April, the Arkansas Commission on Law Enforcement – a regulatory body that enforces less rigorous professional standards than whatever body sanctions professional wrestling referees – reinstated Brackney’s “peace officer” certification. All that he needed now was a job opening – and one was soon created in Sulphur Springs.
Between late 2010 and March 25 of this year, residents of Sulphur Springs had known the singular blessing of living in a community devoid of police. It is an abuse of language to refer to Sulphur Springs as a “town”; as of the last census, its population was about 500 people, and it had no measurable crime rate. There hasn’t been a murder in Sulphur Springs in recent memory. By hiring a murderer as police chief, the people who presume to rule that tiny village managed to handle both the supply and demand side of law enforcement, as it were.
“I told the guys the day I left I would be back,” gloated Brackney in a local TV news interview, displaying the gift for self-preoccupation that typifies his caste. “You put the uniform back on and you look at yourself in the mirror, and you think, `I’m back.’” Of course, the same cannot be said of Brackney’s victim, for whom the newly enthroned police chief apparently cannot spare a thought.
Indeed, Brackney displays a sociopath’s inability to recognize that he did anything wrong by murdering a man and then perjuring himself in an attempt to conceal the crime.
Like every other police officer who has committed criminal violence against a member of the public, Brackney takes refuge in the casual elitism that is commonplace among those in his profession: “Until you have actually rode [sic] with a police officer or have a family member or a friend that [sic] is a police officer, you don’t really know what that job entails.”
In other words: Until you have been licensed to perform acts of criminal aggression or unless you have a relative thus invested, you have no moral standing to criticize those who use that spurious sanction to commit criminal homicide.
To paraphrase Albert Nock’s deathless insight, government police forces don’t exist to eliminate crime, but rather to enforce a government monopoly on crime. Coleman Brackney embodies that principle with uncanny fidelity. This is to be expected of Arkansas, where there quite literally are no standards governing the qualifications and performance of police officers.
Practically any hominid who can drive a car, pull a trigger, and emit sounds that vaguely resemble the English language can be stuffed into a government-issued costume and exercise “authority” on behalf of the State of Arkansas.
Consider this: In order to become a licensed practicing cosmetologist in the State of Arkansas, an applicant must pass a state board examination and complete 2,000 hours of specialized training. After logging 600 hours an applicant can qualify to work as a manicurist or instructor.
The same state government that exercises such rigorous oversight of people who cut hair or paint nails in the private sector, it imposes no training or licensing standards on police officers. Practically anybody who asks for a job as a police officer in Arkansas can get a stinkin’ badge; it’s the qualifications that are unnecessary.
"The second night I ever put on a badge and gun I was riding in my own car," recalled Crittenden County Chief Deputy Tommy Martin. At the time, Martin was 21 years old and hadn't spent so much as a minute inside a police academy classroom.
"According to Arkansas state law, officers do not have to be certified for up to a year after they're hired," reported the Memphis Fox News affiliate in February 2010 – just a few weeks after Officer Brackney murdered James Ahern. "The Commission on Law Enforcement Standards and Training says they can get an 8 month extension on top of that. So for almost 2 years, an officer can patrol the streets, by his or herself, and enforce the law without having any kind of training."
And, as we learned last April, that same Commission is eager to reinstate the certification of police officers who have served time behind bars for acts of criminal homicide.
Arkansas is riddled with tiny towns afflicted with police who are not merely corrupt, but demented.
In late 2009, Police Chief Greg Martin of Turrell, Arkansas (population roughly 900 people) was charged with aggravated assault after he broke into the home of City Council member Floyd Holmes and threatened the Councilman and his wife with a gun.
A similar confrontation a few months earlier in nearby Jericho actually resulted in an attempted homicide.
Until about 1990, the flyspeck town of Jericho (population circa 200 people) was blessedly devoid of police. This changed when the town received a grant to create its own police force – and the community has been suffering ever since.
Over the past two decades, Jericho acquired a richly deserved reputation as one of the most notorious speed traps in the South. But its police department doesn’t just prey on unsuspecting visitors with out-of-state license plates: Persistent harassment by the police and a rising tide of official corruption drove many locals to leave the town.
A few years ago, Fire Chief Don Payne challenged a dubious speeding ticket in court. Later that day, he was hit with a second spurious citation as a transparent act of retaliation for challenging the first one. When he protested the second citation, Payne was mobbed in court by seven officers and then shot. This atrocity did have one salutary result: The police department was temporarily disbanded, and all outstanding citations were dismissed, while investigators tried to determine what had happened to the funds that had been mulcted from speed trap victims.
The town of Paragould has a population of 25,000, which makes it a major metropolis by Arkansas standards. This might explain the grandiose ambitions of Todd Stovall, the J.W. Pepper-grade living caricature who presides over the town’s police department.
Last January, Stovall, who appears to be building his own little private army, announced that he would be deploying SWAT operators armed with AR-15s to harass people on the streets.
"The fear is what's given us the reason to do this,” insisted Stovall as he announced that the city would be placed under martial law for the supposed purpose of deterring crime. “Once I have stats and people are saying they're scared, we can do this. It allows us to do what we're fixing to do."
There is no evidence that people in Paragould are in fear of anyone other than the bullet-headed dimwit who heads their police force, and the costumed adolescents under his command. The “stats” referred to by Stovall certainly don’t justify the perception that the town is under siege. While Paragould historically has a high burglary rate, its violent crime rate is substantially below the national average: In 2010, the last year for which stats are available, there wasn’t a single murder in the town.
Despite these facts, Stovall insists that a “crisis” exists that justifies the suspension of constitutional rules and the imposition of a city-wide curfew.
“I’ve got statistical reasons that say I’ve got a lot of crime right now, which gives me probable cause to ask what you’re doing out,” grunted Stovall at a town meeting at the West View Baptist Church. He admits that he didn’t consult an attorney before reaching that conclusion, and that “I don’t even know that there’s ever been a difference” between what he’s proposing and undisguised martial law. To those who might complain about being harassed by Stovall’s minions, the chief offers an unqualified promise: “If you’re out walking, we’re going to stop you, ask why you’re out walking, check for your ID….We have a zero-tolerance. We are prepared to throw your hind-end in jail, OK? We are not going to take a lot of flack.”
“We’re going to do it to everybody,” Stovall explained, anticipating objections. “Criminals don’t like being talked to.”
The same is true of citizens, of course. But like most members of his paramilitary tribe, Stovall divides the world between the Mundane population -- which is to be intimidated into submission – and enlightened agents of State “authority” such as himself and the murderer who is the newly appointed police chief of Sulphur Springs.
William Norman Grigg publishes the Pro Libertate blog and hosts the Pro Libertate radio program.