Hubanks, city of Pine Bluff sued for alleged FOIA violation

The city of Pine Bluff and Police Chief Jeff Hubanks have been named in a lawsuit filed by one of the attorneys representing the family of the late Monroe Isadore.

Little Rock attorney Lawrence A. Walker said in the lawsuit that Hubanks violated the Arkansas Freedom of Information Act when he did not provide information Walker requested in a timely manner.

Specifically, Walker asked for all documents “that mention or discuss Pine Bluff Police Officers shooting people in the last five years,” all documents that “mention or discuss Pine Bluff Police Officers discharging firearms in the last five years,” and all documents or emails mentioning or discussing friendly fire incidents in the last five years.

Walker also wanted any documents or memorandums that mention or discuss Isadore, 107, who died Sept. 7, 2013, after exchanging gunfire with police officers during a standoff.

In his complaint, Walker said he received an email response from Hubanks that made reference to the FOIA request but did not provide any response to it. Additionally, Walker said the city has not claimed that the documents he requested were exempt or that they were in active use or storage.

City Attorney Althea Hadden-Scott has filed a motion to dismiss the lawsuit, claiming that the lawsuit against Hubanks was not served properly.

Hadden-Scott said in her motion that the summons and complaint should have been served on Mayor Debe Hollingsworth instead of Hadden-Scott’s office.

In a brief in support of that motion, Hadden-Scott said Arkansas Rules of Civil Procedure require that the summons and complaint be delivered to “the chief executive officer” of the municipal corporation.

Hadden-Scott also said the police department could not be sued because it is “merely an appendage of the City of Pine Bluff that does not operate independently of the city government.

“In the City of Pine Bluff, the police department was created by the city council in 1839 to serve at the pleasure of the mayor (i.e., the City can exist without the police department but the police department cannot exist without the City),” Hadden-Scott said in the court filing.

A copy of the summons was served Monday on Hollingsworth, according to a copy of that summons and proof of service sent to The Commercial.

Walker has argued against dismissal of the complaint, contending in a brief filed Monday that Hubanks is named in the lawsuit in his official capacity as chief of police and as custodian of records.

He contended that as the custodian of records, Hubanks can be sued for violating the Arkansas Freedom of Information Act and cited a previous court ruling in a case against the North Little Rock Police Department to support his argument.

Two special prosecutors who reviewed the evidence after the death of Isadore ruled that no criminal charges were warranted against the officer who fired the fatal shot.

That officer, Brad Vilches, was placed on administrative leave with pay while the department conducted a criminal investigation and an internal investigation to determine if department policy had been followed. The department concluded that there were no policy violations and Vilches has returned to full duty.

Walker and Florida attorney Benjamin Crump have scheduled a public meeting at 6 p.m. Tuesday at the Pine Bluff Plaza Hotel, No. 2 Convention Center Drive, to talk about Isadore’s death, and according to a news release, police video of the final seven minutes of the standoff will be shown.

Crump represented the family of Florida teenager Trayvon Martin in a wrongful death lawsuit that resulted in a settlement estimated at more than $1 million.