School district employee fired after arrest


A Pine Bluff School District employee was fired after being arrested earlier this year, Superintendent Linda Watson has confirmed.

Karla McDonald, 30, was terminated after being arrested earlier in 2014, Watson said. McDonald was employed as a custodian, director of communications Kenetta Ridgell said. The Pine Bluff School Board upheld McDonald’s firing after meeting in executive session at a regular meeting on Tuesday, June 17.

Employees who are arrested face a disciplinary process that can lead to termination, Watson said.

Pine Bluff Police Department records show that McDonald was arrested on Jan. 14, 2014, on allegations of aggravated assault. Officer Donald L. Griffin wrote an incident report that McDonald allegedly drove her car into a man in the parking lot of Broadmoor Elementary School. Griffin interviewed the alleged victim, who was listed on the report as a boyfriend, who said he was arguing with McDonald, attempted to open her door but could not and was knocked to the pavement.

Formal charges of aggravated assault and second-degree battery were filed in February against McDonald, according to records from the prosecutor’s office. The charges against McDonald were still pending as of Tuesday, according to prosecutor’s office staff.

Attempts to reach McDonald at a phone number provided in the police report were not successful. The school district declined to provide McDonald’s phone number.

McDonald was hired by the Pine Bluff School District in September 2005, Ridgell said.

The Commercial submitted a Freedom of Information request on Wednesday, June 18, to the Pine Bluff School District seeking access to McDonald’s personnel file. In general, the state’s FOI law allows three business days for entities to respond to such requests.

When Ridgell returned to work Monday, she asked the newspaper to re-submit the same FOI request. Ridgell disputed that The Commercial’s original request included the request for the personnel file.

Luther Sutter, the attorney representing the school district, said Tuesday that McDonald was notified through her attorney about the newspaper’s FOI request. She is being given a chance to object to the release of her information, he said.

“I contacted Ms. McDonald’s lawyer to determine whether he objected,” Sutter said via email on Tuesday. “I spoke with him just now, and he objected and requested an AG (attorney general) opinion. I do not believe his objection will be sustained, but I have sent a letter to the AG requesting the opinion.”

McDonald is not contesting the termination, Sutter said via email on Wednesday.

Jeffery Kearney is the attorney representing McDonald, according to Sutter and a woman who answered the phone at the Kearney Law Office, who said he was unavailable until next week.

John Tull III, an attorney at Quattlebaum, Grooms, Tull & Burrow in Little Rock, said the FOI law provides the public access to some but not all public records. Exceptions to the law may include documents from a personnel file especially for a terminated employee who is appealing.

“There is a balancing act between the public’s interest and the employee’s privacy,” Tull said. “But if there is a substantial public interest, that public interest will usually outweigh the privacy interest of the employee.

“[The governmental entity] will claim that this is part of a personnel file,” Tull said. “Public records are subject to disclosure. … There is a widely understood belief that there is a three-day period to all requests but there is an exemption to personnel files.”

The Commercial did not receive the requested information by press time on Wednesday.