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Thursday, May 24, 2012

Surgeon general strikes deal on disturbance charges

Posted By on Thu, May 24, 2012 at 5:19 PM

CASE CLOSED: The arrest of Surgeon General Joe Thompson, shown here in police unit video from the night of his arrest, ended quietly today in a plea bargain that should ultimately mean dismissal of the charges.
  • CASE CLOSED: The arrest of Surgeon General Joe Thompson, shown here in police unit video from the night of his arrest, ended quietly today in a bargain that should ultimately mean dismissal of the charges.

A deal has ended the disturbance case against Surgeon General Joe Thompson, arrested by Little Rock police at his Hillcrest home March 31. Barring further problems, all charges ultimately will be dismissed.

The Pulaski prosecuting attorney's ofice and Thompson's attorney, Jack Lassiter, appeared without notice in District Judge Alice Lightle's courtroom at 9 a.m. today for approval of the settlement. He had been scheduled for trial next week.

Prosecuting Attorney Larry Jegley, whom I called for the details after I heard of the arrangement, said his office declined to prosecute a charge of attempting to influence a public servant. That charge was dismissed. This charge arose from Thompson identifying himself as surgeon general the night of a confrontation with Little Rock police. Charges of disorderly conduct and resisting arrest were passed for six months. Thompson entered no plea. No cost was assessed. Absent further problems, those charges will be dismissed. Jegley said he was confident there'd be no further problems.

"I thought this was a good way of everyone going on from here and putting it to rest and having a hopefully calm and quiet Memorial Day," Jegley said.

Police Lt. Terry Hastings, told us when we sought a comment from Chief Stuart Thomas that the decision was the prosecutor's and whatever the prosecutor decides, the police supported. "We're fine with it," he said.

I have been unable to reach Thompson.

STATEMENT TOMORROW: From Dr. Joe Thompson.
  • STATEMENT TOMORROW: From Dr. Joe Thompson.
Lassiter said he preferred not to comment because Thompson planned to issue a statement in the morning.

UPDATE: Find Thompson's statement here.

Lassiter said the proceeding in court took little time and was handled by a deputy prosecutor, Tom Marks, during a standard morning court session. Thompson was present, but didn't approach the bench for the proceeding and didn't speak, he said.

CORRECTION: My original post referred to a "plea" bargain. There was no plea, just a dismissal of one charge and passing of two others with dismissal expected after six months.

The episode began when Thompson asked a man parked in an SUV about 10 p.m. on Saturday night March 31 what he was doing. The man was, Jacob Farque, a member of the Stephens Inc., private security force. He patrols neighborhods, such Ridgeway Avenue, where Stephens execs live. Thompson lives on Ridgeway. Farque called police because he said Thompson had an angry encounter with him. Thompson said he was concerned that the private cop was tapping into home wireless networks on the computer he was using. Officers responded, though Thompson had gone by then into his house. Officers said he wouldn't comply when they went to his door with requests for identification. He was eventually taken to the ground and handcuffed. Suggestions by the police that Thompson was intoxicated and otherwise out of control didn't seem to be borne out in audio and video tapes eventually unearthed from police records. Thompson was arrested by an officer, Chris Johannes, with a lengthy history of use of force in arrests, though none ever resulted in disciplinary action.

Jegley said Lassiter had initiated plea bargain discussions.

"I explained to him I think everybody needs to put this behind them. But people need to realize regardless of circumstances when police engage and start to do their job, nobody has a right to be non-compliant. He said he understood that dynamic of the situation and respected it and after some talk with the chief and people in my office I decided the best course was to resolve it as we did. Mr. Lassiter spoke with his client. Dr. Thompson was amenable."

Jegley said he spoke only with Chief Thomas about the deal, not with the individual officers, but he felt sure they'd understand the decision. He added, "There's no way I wanted the officers to feel as though there was any disrespect for their position out on the street. I'm confident Chief Thomas communicated that and he was in complete agreement with this resolution."

Jegley said it is easy to say there might be better ways to resolve such situations. Asked if this resolution should be taken as any indication that officers had overreacted that night, he said, "No. This is one of those instances, like many other cases, where folks who were not there can second guess and Monday morning quarterback. Police officers out on the street have a tough job."

He said, though, that Thompson had no history of bad behavior and "I'm confident he won't have any more encounters." He said he was hopeful individual officers "would understand why I felt as though probably this was the best course to resolve everything for both sides."

Conviction or no conviction, Thompson has paid a heavy price in publicity alone. The officers' actions have been scrutinized, but not repudiated. I don't know if the peaceful resolution indicates anything regarding any potential civil action by Thompson over the arrest. Could it be read that way, I asked Lassiter?

"I don't think you should read anything into it concerning any civil action."

Well, I asked more directly, will he take civil action. "I can't get into that," he said. "And you shouldn't read anything into that."

UPDATE: Friday, Lassiter said no suit would be filed.

Jegley said there are always ways police can improve procedures and he was confident the chief was constantly tweaking them. He referred questions about police interactions with private security (many officers, including Johannes, have private duty work) to the police department, including whether they should have pursued Thompson on the security officer's complaint since Thompson had gone home without any physical contact with the security man.

But Jegley volunteered that police actions this week in responding to a deadly burglary on Thayer Street, illustrated through police radio transmissions "what good people and training we have in the Little Rock police department."

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