Fired police officer accuses city of violating FOI Act

Former Pine Bluff police officer Chris Powell, who was fired in May after a civilian review committee ruled that he had sexually harassed a female recruit while serving as her training officer, has accused city officials of violating the Arkansas Freedom of Information Act.

A letter dated July 5 and addressed to Mayor Debe Hollingsworth, Interim Police Chief Jeff Hubanks and City Attorney Althea Hadden-Scott said Powell did not receive “over half of the material I requested” from the city.

Specifically, Powell said he did not receive any transcripts or interviews from a second investigation of his conduct which was conducted after an initial investigation by the department’s Office of Professional Standards, and did not receive any documents or material from the appeal board.

The letter, a copy of which was obtained by The Commercial on Monday, says that Powell had requested a “complete copy of my personnel file and any records referring me, as well as a complete copy of the entire investigative file of charges against me, to include, but not limited to all pictures from both the first internal affairs investigation and the second investigation, to include the date and time stamped and non-dated and time stamped photos.”

Powell said he had also asked for the color photos and original black and white photos from the internal affairs investigation, as well as all “transcripts or records of the appeal board, any and all documents logs or exhibits used in any way by the City of Pine Bluff Appeal Board.”

The letter also demands that the complete file be available for pickup or delivered to him by noon Monday, July 8, or “I will consider this a willful and blatant violation of the Arkansas Freedom of Information Act,” and “I will be forced to take legal action including seeking arrest warrants for the willful violation of the Arkansas Freedom of Information Act by the City of Pine Bluff City Attorney, the City of Pine Bluff Human Resources Director and the City of Pine Bluff Chief of Police.”

On Monday, Hadden-Scott said Powell picked up and signed for a packet of information which she described as “about two inches thick” on July 3, and said she thought Powell had been given all the material he asked for.

“He can have whatever he wants,” Hadden-Scott said, explaining that two separate investigations were conducted, and some of the material collected in the first investigation was also a part of the second investigation, so that material was only included once in the packet Powell received.

Hadden-Scott said if Powell wants those items twice, all he has to do is ask.

Regarding the letter itself, Hadden-Scott said she had not seen it and was unaware of its existence until told by a reporter Monday. In addition, she said she had not received anything related to the letter from the Mayor’s Office or the police department.

The letter was dated last Friday. City offices were closed Thursday and Friday for the Fourth of July holiday.

The Arkansas Freedom of Information Act allows entities three working days — not including weekends or holidays — to fulfill requests.

Hubanks originally suspended Powell for 20 days after the second investigation into allegations made by the female recruit. Powell appealed that suspension to a three-member review committee composed of non-uniformed city employees. After a May 2 hearing, the review committee on May 10 ordered that Powell be terminated.