Peter F. Daniels Jr. said Tuesday that if elected as Pine Bluff’s mayor, he’ll immediately fire Police Chief Brenda Davis-Jones.
“I’ll terminate her as soon as I’m sworn in,” Daniels said in a news conference in the courtyard of the civic center.
He described himself as “frustrated by the poor leadership in the police department” and said that as mayor he would “not tolerate any chief or retain a chief that has issued false statements to the public.” He added that he has “grown tired” of incumbent Mayor Carl A. Redus’ “lack of leadership.”
“I don’t have any comment on what he might say,” Redus said of Daniels just before Tuesday night’s mayoral forum at the University of Arkansas at Pine Bluff. “Mr. Daniels has no responsibility over anything to do with city government or the police department.”
In his news conference, Daniels accused Davis-Jones of being “flat out untruthful to the general public and reporters” on the Cleashindra Hall case. Hall has been missing 18 years and was last seen at the home of her employer, Larry Amos.
Amos’ house was searched by police on March 29 and unspecified evidence collected at the scene was supposed to have been turned over to the Arkansas State Crime Laboratory in Little Rock. At a Monday, May 7, city council meeting, Davis-Jones said she could not provide an update on the case because the crime lab hadn’t provided a forensic report.
“The forensics have not come back yet,” Davis-Jones said in response to a question from Hall’s mother, Laurell Hall. “There’s nothing we can do until they come back. We call the crime lab at least once a week and they have not got to it yet. Once they get those results back, we would be more than happy to go forward and give you the results of that crime lab report.”
On Wednesday, May 9, the crime lab and police spokesman confirmed that the evidence had not been delivered until the previous day. Crime Scene Technician Cathy Ruhl was later given a five-day suspension after a PBPD internal investigation into the delay. Lt. Bob Rawlinson – who had been the lead investigator in the case – was reassigned by Davis-Jones soon after the house search but before the revelations about the evidence not going to the crime lab emerged. Davis-Jones also gave Rawlinson a two-day suspension in connection with the incident, but it was overturned by a disciplinary review panel.
During his news conference, Daniels said the chief’s decision to remove Rawlinson from the case “during the middle of the investigation” was “outrageous.
“The chief was not serious about making the Hall investigation a high priority,” Daniels said. “Careless mistakes jeopardizing the integrity of the newly obtained evidence was deceitful to a hurting family (and) is cause for termination.”
Daniels said police department morale “is at an all-time low” and “the high attrition among senior officers places our community at greater risk when it comes to on-site crime prevention decision-making.”
As he had done in a recent mayoral forum, Daniels said that if elected, he’ll “encourage the city council to reinstate the civil service commission.” He also said he’ll propose a salary increase for police officers that would make PBPD “commensurate with or above any” other department in the state.
Daniels said he would have officers working 10-hour instead of the current 12-hour shifts and would “explore the possibility” of acquiring the Shotspotter gunfire-location technology. He would also like to see officers afforded all state and federal training opportunities and he said he would “provide unprecedented support to neighborhood watch groups.”
Saying he would aggressively support new construction of a police station, he called for implementation of neighborhood foot patrols and an increase of bike patrols.