Wednesday, August 20, 2014

Jonesboro Sun reporter quits over tension with city police chief; his Facebook comments a factor

Posted By on Wed, Aug 20, 2014 at 11:16 AM

click to enlarge NO REGRETS: Jonesboro Police Chief Mike Yates stands behind criticism of Sun reporter who quit over 'tense' relationship with police. - JONESBORO SUN
  • Jonesboro Sun
  • NO REGRETS: Jonesboro Police Chief Mike Yates stands behind criticism of Sun reporter who quit over 'tense' relationship with police.
The Jonesboro Sun reports  that Sunshine Crump resigned as the newspaper's police reporter after a "tense" relationship with Police Chief Mike Yates.

The newspaper reported that Yates had made multiple comments on his Facebook page that were derogatory about Crump. The paper cited these comments:

* “Wonder if ole Sunshine (reporter) could pass a drug test,” Yates wrote on one post. “Why yes, she has been arrested before.”

* “Pro-dope smoking, law license revoked, left wing liberal, smelly, arrested by police, unscrupulous reporter.”

* “This is the kind of journalism we have now ... ask ole Sunshine (reporter) why her law license got suspended next time you see her.”

* “Reminds me of a song ... ‘ain’t no Sunshine when she’s gone’ etc.”

* “Dealing with ole Sunshine is like trying to pick up a dog turd by the ‘clean end.’”

He also commented on the Sun:

* “I intend to help that ship sink ... torpedoes away!”

Other police officers and others commented in support of the chief, the Sun article said.

“The level of stress and anxiety created by a public official who commands a small army, and who targets someone in such a manner for First Amendment protected activities is hard to measure,” Crump wrote in a resignation letter to Sun editors. 

During a Tuesday interview, Yates said he stood behind his Facebook posts as constitutionally protected speech, the Sun reported. He said articles Crump had written had damaged her credibility. A reader notes that a police chief who uses the First Amendment as an excuse for his own conduct, rather than its intended use to protect people from government, perhaps isn't a fit choice to be wearing a badge and carrying a gun to enforce the law.

Sun Publisher David Mossesso said Yates should be fired for his social media comments.

“The comments that Chief Yates posted are very disturbing and damaging to this newspaper,” Mosesso said. “It’s time for Mayor Harold Perrin to step up and deal with him to prevent this from happening to any other local business or private citizen. Any other entity would have already fired or suspended an employee who made these types of vindictive comments, and our city department heads should obviously be held to an even higher standard.”

The Sun has retained Quattlebaum, Grooms, Tull & Burrow, a Little Rock law firm, which has asked the Jonesboro city attorney for action against Yates.

“Specifically, Chief Yates had provided written, public commentary on Facebook and perhaps elsewhere that could give rise to a claim for defamation by Jonesboro Sun reporter Sunshine Crump,” Attorney John E. Tull III wrote in the letter.

“As you can see, even without any knowledge of Ms. Crump, Chief Yates has made several false and defamatory statements of fact concerning Ms. Crump,” the letter continued. “At a minimum, these statements are unprofessional and unbecoming of the Jonesboro Police Chief, and The Jonesboro Sun respectfully requests that he and other officers and employees of the Jonesboro Police Department refrain from making similar comments in the future.” 

The letter said Yates had changed police procedure to slow reporters' access to public information — logs, police reports and affidavits for arrest warrants. Tull said that could be viewed as a "tortious interference" with the business. Reporters are getting reports later and only after review by an information officer. They also no longer may speak directly to detectives.

Jonesboro City Attorney Phillip Crego said the city is investigating. The mayor wouldn't comment.

Yates said procedural changes arose from release of a video that hadn't been redacted of information that shouldn't have been made public. 

The paper quoted Crump:

“I do not feel safe here, and I will not continue to be put in a position of self-defense,” she wrote in a letter. “I am an innocent person and an American citizen.”

Publisher Mosesso said Crump had been an outstanding reporter. If the chief had an issue, he "should have picked up the phone instead of posting inflammatory comments on Facebook."

Waylon Harris, the Sun's managing editor, said Crump had told the paper allegations about drug use were false. She said she once had a law license in Texas, but decided to quit practice and so stopped paying annual licensing fees, resulting in a procedural suspension. She was arrested once, in college for participating in a protest. The charge was dropped, Harris said.

UPDATE: I'm reminded that Yates' controversial past at a previous job in Georgia came up when Jonesboro police had a controvesial shooting death of a suspect.

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