Complaints lodged over use of bullhorn by Whitfield supporters

A bullhorn was used in a runoff campaign outside the Jefferson County Courthouse on Wednesday, possibly violating state law and resulting in two complaints to the Jefferson County Election Commission and another to The Commercial.

Commission Secretary Stu Soffer said Ivan Whitfield, who is opposing Dutch King for the Democratic nomination for county judge, was reported to have used a bullhorn, which Soffer said Prosecuting Attorney S. Kyle Hunter declared as unlawful in a Feb. 9 email. Hunter issued his opinion in response to a request from the commission.

Soffer said all candidates attending a March 1 ballot-drawing meeting were told of electioneering restrictions, including Hunter’s opinion on sound system and bullhorn prohibition outside the courthouse. Soffer said Whitfield, who attended the meeting, asked immediately afterward for “something in writing” on the sound device issue and was provided a copy of Hunter’s February opinion.

In April, Commission Coordinator Will Fox mailed written electioneering guidance, which included the ban on sound systems.

Whitfield disagreed that he broke any rules with the bullhorn, however, because it was used outside a 100-foot exclusion zone in which campaigning is barred.

“That law don’t govern us outside the 100 feet, and that’s where we were,” Whitfield said.

He added that he had spoken directly with Hunter on Wednesday and that Hunter reported he had not received any complaints about the bullhorn.

“I made a decision to withdraw the use of the bullhorn myself,” Whitfield said. “Kyle said he didn’t say to put the bullhorn up.”

Soffer said that after the commission received two telephone complaints on the matter Wednesday, he referred the matter to County Clerk Patricia Royal Johnson, who is responsible for early voting, and notified Hunter’s office. A woman who telephoned The Commercial said she had felt “harassed” by the bullhorn.

Following the call to the newspaper, a reporter went to the courthouse and witnessed an unidentified Whitfield supporter campaigning with a bullhorn. There were no reports of a sound device being employed Thursday.

Whitfield, who will retire July 1 as assistant chief of the Pine Bluff Police Department, has encountered other issues as well. He’s employing a commercial-style panel truck in his bid to succeed County Judge Mike Holcomb, who is stepping down in pursuit of a state representative’s post. Shortly before early voting began for the primary election, the van was determined to have a state license tag that expired in 2008.

When early voting started, the van was parked outside the courthouse sporting a current license.

A 30-year PBPD veteran, Whitfield was placed on administrative leave and then fired by Chief Brenda Davis-Jones in February after an investigation into one of his department-issued pistols being found in a vehicle with a person of interest in a criminal investigation. Whitfield’s firing was overturned three days later by the City Council.

Whitfield has since refused to respond to questions on what led to the alleged loss of his pistol and its recovery, other than to say “questions pertaining to my weapons have been answered in writing with the police department.” Because he was reinstated and received no disciplinary action on the matter, his personnel file — which may contain Whitfield’s statements — is not subject to public inspection under the state Freedom of Information Act, according to the city attorney.

The Arkansas State Police began an investigation into the matter of Whitfield’s weapon along with others that have been discovered as missing from law enforcement officers across the state. ASP spokesman Bill Sadler stressed that the agency’s investigation has nothing to do with personal disagreements between Whitfield and Davis-Jones.

Whitfield will face King in the runoff election Tuesday. Polls will be open from 7:30 a.m. to 7:30 p.m. throughout the county.