Four of the six men selected for the first public session of the Pine Bluff Violent Crime Task Force showed up Thursday night and received offers of help from various community agencies and individuals, then a warning from law enforcement agencies and the prosecutor about their behavior.
“You’re here because of choices you’ve made in the past,” Pine Bluff Police Chief Jeff Hubanks said. “Hopefully, this will help you make better choices in the future because we want you to be fully knowledgeable about what’s going to happen if you break the law.”
The new program, patterned after a similar effort that has been successful in High Point, N.C., identifies people who have been convicted of violent felonies in the past and or on probation or parole. Officials meet with those people, tell them it’s time to stop the violence, then prosecute those who don’t change their behavior.
Nine people were selected in the first group to be warned, and four of them — Roderick Collier, 36; James Green, 55; Henry Hayes, 40; and Brandon Williams, 27 — attended the meeting held in the council chambers at city hall. Three others — Melvin Sanders, 43, Leroy White Jr., 48, and Jimmy Epperson, 35 — are incarcerated. The other two, Ben Creggett, 37. and Derrick McAfee, 20, did not attend despite being urged to do so by their probation officers.
The task force includes representatives from the Pine Bluff Police Department, Jefferson County Sheriff’s Office, Arkansas State Police, Redfield and White Hall police departments, the Prosecuting Attorney’s Office, the FBI, Drug Enforcement Administration, U.S. Marshals Service, the federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives and the U.S. Attorney’s Office. Representatives of most of those agencies were on hand Thursday to give their own warnings.
Before the law enforcement officials had their say, representatives of various community agencies spoke to the men, offering help.
Kathy Harris with Southeast Arkansas Behavioral Healthcare spoke about the programs available to the men, including drug and alcohol treatment and counseling, while Gloria Whitman of the University of Arkansas at Pine Bluff talked about education programs and work-force training.
“I’m here because I want to be part of stopping the crime in this city,” the Rev. Kerry Price Sr. said. “I’m tired of the violence in this city.”
Then, speaking directly to the four men sitting in the front row, Price said: “God has a plan for you, a purpose and your purpose in life is not to be caged up like some wild animal for days and days.”
The men also were offered courtesy tickets from Pine Bluff Transit if they need transportation.
After that, it was the turn of law enforcement agencies and the prosecutor, who didn’t mince words when he spoke.
“I’m so sick of hearing Crime Bluff I could throw up,” Prosecutor S. Kyle Hunter said. “Everyone is sick of it. You’ve been part of the problem in the past. I encourage you to be a part of the solution. Take advantage of what’s being offered you.”
Hunter then went on to tell the men, “I know who you are. Your names and pictures are in my office and if I get a call that you’ve committed a violent act at 3 a.m., it won’t be one of my deputy prosecutors who shows up in district court the next morning. It will be me and I’m going to tell the judge that you had an opportunity and then I’m going to ask for a high bond for you.”
Part of the program calls for prosecutors to be notified if any of the men on the list are stopped or arrested for a crime, regardless of the time of day or night.
“Then I’m going to visit with the U.S. Attorney and together we will decide where to prosecute you,” Hunter said. “There won’t be any sweet deals because of a crowded docket and we may have to make deals with your buddies and friends to get to you but that’s the priority. There will be no breaks.”
Regarding federal prison time versus state prison time, Deputy U.S. Marshal Mike Koberlein told the men that a person sentenced to, for example, 10 years in state prison would serve about two years before being eligible for parole, while that same 10-year sentence in federal prison would mean serving about eight and-a-half years.
“If you won’t do it for yourself, do it for your family members,” Koberlein said. “Don’t throw caution to the wind with disastrous consequences.”
Mike Davis, the special agent in charge of the DEA in Little Rock told the men his agency “would adopt any cases these agencies make against you,”while FBI Special Agent Boyd Boshears said his agency would work with the others and “do everything we can to bring this commuity back strong.”
Redfield Police Chief Steve McFatridge told the men: “Don’t come to Redfield and carry on like you are now. It ain’t going to happen.”
Major Lafayette Woods Jr. of the Jefferson County Sheriff’s Office, who was filling in for Sheriff Gerald Robinson, said the sheriff”s department is fully on board and will be sharing information with the other agencies.
Also speaking was Lt. Carl Minden of the Pulaski County Sheriff’s Department, who represented Central Arkansas Crimestoppers. Minden told the men they will be the subject of a Crimestoppers report if they commit a crime.
Hubanks said the men ware now in a “special database.”
“Your names are flagged and if you commit another offense, you’re going to get special attention,” he said. “What got you here were your violent acts. It’s time to stop doing that.”
The police department will select a new group each three months who will all receive the same offers of help, then the same warnings about criminal behavior.
After Hunter spoke, Hubanks had the last words.
“Life is a matter of choices and you have been warned,” he said.