A Phillips County man apparently is far ahead of even Arkansas lawmakers in the arms race, and he’s in trouble with the law — so much so that new legislation probably wouldn’t help him.
James Weldon King, 50, of Helena-West Helena is accused of keeping more than 30 firearms inside his home, including a loaded pistol just inside the door, two loaded AK-47 assault rifles, handguns and long guns, and thousands of rounds of ammunition.
Outside the house in a locked storage room, inside packing tubes, FBI agents found 10 more AK-47-style rifles, at least some of which were fully automatic.
King was obviously ready for the next revolution, and he supposedly told the FBI that people had been shooting at him from helicopters.
The problem is that, according to court records in Arkansas and Mississippi, King is a convicted felon who doesn’t have the right to own or operate a firearm.
There is one more thing that makes this story fascinating. In November the good people of St. Francis Township, Phillips County, elected him as their constable. Actually, he defeated James Jones in the Democratic Primary and then didn’t have opposition in the general election.
Although he didn’t take office until January, federal authorities said King began openly carrying a gun and wearing a constable’s uniform, badge and utility belt long before that. He also began driving a car marked with a constable decal and was seen taking his child to school while in uniform.
All that apparently caught the attention of federal authorities, who have been busy in Phillips County with some big drug cases for the past couple of years. That’s not to say King was involved in those cases; in fact, he may have been planning to go after the druggies with his new badge and uniform.
The Arkansas Democrat-Gazette reported that a federal magistrate decided Friday to detain King while he awaits trial on charges of being a felon in possession of a firearm and possessing an unregistered firearm (automatic weapons must be registered). Judge J. Thomas Ray decided that the evidence shows King would pose a danger to himself and to others if released on bond.
Friday’s decision came after a bail hearing earlier this month in which Judge Ray determined that an FBI agent’s testimony wasn’t enough to show that King posed a danger. He was then placed on house arrest and electronic monitoring.
Presumably, that would have kept him from carrying out his duties as constable.
The newspaper reported that at a second hearing the government presented more compelling evidence.
“Certainly there is information in these documents that he was suicidal and wanting to harm other people,” Ray said, referring to psychiatric records from January 2010. “Mr. King was, quote, seen walking with a gun, thinking of killing people.”
The judge pointed out that the government also had correspondence between King and his ex-wife that included a letter in which King “lists numerous people that he wants to kill.”
King has a history of bad behavior. In 1985 he was convicted of theft by receiving in Phillips County and sentenced to five years ‘ probation. Two years later, the government complaint said, he pleaded guilty to two counts of grand larceny in Jackson County, Miss. There he was sentenced to five years in prison but was ordered first to be transported to Arkansas for revocation of his earlier probation.
That apparently never happened, and yet he was never returned to Mississippi, which was probably glad for us to keep him. A judge signed an order in 1997 expunging and sealing his Phillips County record. Records show King has been arrested in misdemeanor cases 11 times, with four cases still pending, the Democrat-Gazette reported.
I repeat: This guy was elected to keep the peace in St. Francis Township.
In fairness, the voters didn’t have sufficient information. We don’t pay much attention to the election of constables. King lied about not having been convicted of a felony to get on the ballot, and Arkansas has no mechanism to determine if someone is really qualified as a candidate. Someone else must contest that in court.
Even now, as prescribed in the state constitution, the county must take action to remove him from office for cause.
By law, each of the 1,400 townships in Arkansas may elect a constable, but only about half of them do, according to the Arkansas Constables Association. What that means is that almost anybody can run for this office, which has its roots in the Roman Empire, and most often there is no opposition. Once elected to the 2-year term, the constable is charged with seeing that the various laws of the county, state and nation are carried out.
Wearing a badge and carrying a gun, or in King’s case, an AK-47, is part of the burden of the office. Constables get little or no pay, or even expense money, but they also are not required to get training unless they want access to the state’s criminal database.
In 2011 a resolution that would have referred a constitutional amendment to abolish the office failed to get legislative approval.
All the investigation so far has been focused on King. At some point we should investigate why our system can’t prevent a guy like this from getting guns, let alone automatic weapons.
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Roy Ockert is editor emeritus of The Jonesboro Sun. He may be reached by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.