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Sunday, August 24, 2014

How they roll in Rogers, Ark.: More from the Ben Lipscomb file

Posted By on Sun, Aug 24, 2014 at 8:09 AM

As I promised yesterday, I have more today on Rogers City Attorney Ben Lipscomb, who's facing a special prosecutor's investigation for impersonating a law officer for allegedly flashing a badge to get VIP treatment at a Miranda Lambert concert at the Walmart AMP in Bentonville. According to Democrat-Gazette columnist Mike Masterson, Lipscomb appears to be unapologetic. He quoted him today as saying there's no statute against impersonating a law officer and, besides, he IS a law officer as a prosecuting attorney. (Lawyer friend notes for lawyer Lipscomb: There IS a criminal impersonation statute that applies to use of position to defraud.)

The Lipscomb case gives me an opportunity to relate a story I happened to hear recently about Lipscomb's  attitude. It also reflects on Republican U.S. Rep. Steve Womack, former mayor of Rogers.

click to enlarge WRITES TO BOSS WOMACK: Stephen Coger.
  • WRITES TO BOSS WOMACK: Stephen Coger.
I heard about this from a new friend, Stephen Coger, a Danville native who I think Arkansas will hear more about. A University of Arkansas graduate, he won the William H. Gates Scholarship, a free ride including summer stipend, to earn a law degree at the University of Washington. He had to promise in return that he'd devote at least five years to public interest law. A new law graduate, he's going to spend his first year working for a foundation in India investigating human rights abuses. In time, he plans a career in service in Arkansas. He's been a Fulbright scholar working at a teachers college in Argentina and also has worked in India before, including representation of homeless children abused by an Indian train station manager.

He's done do-good work since his undergraduate days. Which brings me to Rogers, Ark., Womack and Ben Lipscomb.  It was 2010. Coger was working for a legal aid law firm while a UA student. He met clients — Latino immigrants — fearful of reporting domestic abuse to authorities in Rogers because of the city's participation in the federal 287g program. It allows city police to enforce immigration law. Many were fearful that reporting crimes would be rewarded by speedy deportation.

Coger expressed concerns about the program in a letter to the mayor. The responses from Womack and Lipscomb? Judge for yourself by the correspondence, reprinted in full on the jump. 

Womack, of course, is famous for bullying behavior, particularly regarding immigrants. Remember his putdown of a man who wore a Latino heritage t-shirt to an event at which Womack spoke? And Lipscomb's judgment has been questioned before, such as in a firing recommendation that ended up costing the city of Rogers more than $600,000. On to Coger's encounter with these two:


LETTER FROM COGER TO MAYOR WOMACK


January 28, 2010

Steve Womack
301 W. Chestnut
Rogers, Arkansas 72756

Honorable Mayor Womack:

Working at a non-profit law firm in Fayetteville, I have served residents of Rogers as well as the rest of NW Arkansas. My name is Stephen Coger, and I am writing today to share with you my observations on the day-to-day, practical effects of the immigration policy known as 287 g.

Since the law’s passage, my clients have feared to leave home. For example, they may need to come in for an order of protection and then call to say that they are afraid to leave home because they heard a rumor that immigration was making stops that day. The effect of 287 g has been to decrease faith in authorities, and this disconnect surely allows for many crimes and much suffering to go unreported.

Personally, I believe the stories clients tell me about families being torn apart by 287 g. Personally, I suspect 287 g has not resulted in less crime, but rather that 287 g has resulted in the arrests of non-criminal, hard-working mothers and fathers: waiters, cooks, and hotel maids, for example. And I know for a fact that 287 g has
exponentially increased fear amongst our immigrant neighbors and fomented a feeling of isolation and distrust of authorities.

But apart from my personal opinions, I know 287 g to hurt families based on my work experience. Twice now I have been on the phone with women clients, victims of domestic abuse, when the abuser has entered the home. Despite my repeated attempts to convince the women to call the police, they would not. I spoke with the second of these women some minutes later only to find that she had indeed been violently physically abused in front of her children. And she did not call the police out of fear that a police officer who doubled as an immigration agent might come and separate her from her children who are US citizens.

Janet Murguía, President and CEO of the National Council of La Raza, said of 287 g, “The data shows that we are using precious enforcement resources to go after noncriminals, instead of focusing on serious criminal offenders who are a threat to their communities.”

International Association of Chiefs of Police President Joseph Estey, Chief of the Hartford, Vermont Police Department, said, “Many leaders in the law enforcement community have serious concerns about the chilling effect any measure of this nature would have on legal and illegal aliens reporting criminal activity or assisting police in
criminal investigations. This lack of cooperation could diminish the ability of law enforcement agencies to police effectively their communities and protect the public they serve.”

In June 2006, the Immigration Committee of the Major Cities Chiefs Association adopted a set of recommendations that explained “immigration enforcement by local police would likely negatively effect and undermine the level of trust and cooperation between local police and immigrant communities…. Such a divide between the local police and immigrant groups would result in increased crime against immigrants and in the broader community,
create a class of silent victims and eliminate the potential for assistance from immigrants in solving crimes or preventing future terroristic acts.”

That immigrants are avoiding contact with officials is true based on my experience. I know this ought to interest you if you want Rogers’ Hispanic community to stand up and be counted for the census and if you want the resultant resources their numbers can bring to our NW Arkansas community.

No permutation of this law is acceptable, sir. The tools that officers possess to fight crime must be the tools that they possessed before the implementation of 287 g, this policy that has resulted not so much in the arrests of NW Arkansas’ criminal element, as perhaps was its stated purpose. If it has resulted in the arrest of that element, then it has not done so much to arrest that element as it has to arrest the trust that we all need our neighbors to have in the authorities.

Please begin the process of ending Rogers’ participation in this hurtful policy. I would be happy to visit with you about how I might help facilitate an end to 287 g.

If you do not share my interest in ending 287 g, then I’ll need to begin doing my homework to advocate for its end. Toward this end, I would appreciate it if you could provide me with some statistics of those arrested in your city under 287 g:

What was the cause of their initial encounter with authorities: criminal, traffic violation, etc.? Were they arrested at home, at work, or on the street? At what time? Did it lead to the any unrelated arrest of the arrestee’s family?

There would be no better time than right after the holiday season to announce that you would like to make Rogers a safer place for families by making it more likely that crime will be reported and by making it more likely that women and children in danger will call the police.

As the census approaches, it would be wise to do the morally sensible thing, the economically sensible thing, and end this hurtful policy that keeps our immigrant neighbors from trusting, that keeps them from shopping as a family, that keeps them from spending money, and that will keep them from being counted in the census.

Thank you for your time.

Sincerely,


Stephen Coger
Concerned Citizen

MAYOR WOMACK'S RESPONSE

click to enlarge OFFENDED: Then-Mayor Steve Womack didn't respond well to criticism.
  • OFFENDED: Then-Mayor Steve Womack didn't respond well to criticism.

Jan. 28, 2010

Stephen, frankly, your email is offensive to me. It is offensive to me as a mayor, a veteran, a taxpayer, and a law-abiding CITIZEN of the United States. It should also be offensive to any LEGAL immigrant residing in this country who came here the right way.

Not that it come as any surprise...but I will not back off my support of 287(g). I will not turn Rogers into a sanctuary city. I will not excuse people who knowingly, willingly violate our laws. I will not support an amnesty program for them.

If you seriously disagree with my position, you should move to Rogers, run for mayor, and try that BS on the rank-and-file citizens of this city. Until then, I suggest you utilize your valuable, non-profit time on more constructive issues. Perhaps educating your clientele on the law—you should know something about the subject—and how we honor the rule of law in this country, would inspire them to return to their native country and seek admission to the US legally. That, we could all support.

Mayor Steve Womack


LETTER FROM BEN LIPSCOMB TO COGER

Jan. 28, 2010

Mr. Coger,
While I disagree with your views on 287(g), that disagreement is not the primary purpose of this response. I will get right to my point.

How dare you be so presumptuous as to offer YOUR legal services to MY clients, Mayor Womack and the City of Rogers? As City Attorney, I represented the City and its officials in the application for and the implementation of the City's participation in the program and am perfectly capable of assisting in its withdrawal from the program if asked. Clearly Mayor Womack DOES NOT wish to withdraw from 287(g), but that is not the point. I consider your offer of legal services to my client to be indicative of questionable ethics, not to mention colossal affrontary[sic] and poor grace.

Sincerely,
Ben Lipscomb
Rogers City Attorney

NOTE FROM LIPSCOMB TO WOMACK RELATIVE TO HIS RESPONSE TO COGER

click to enlarge BOO YAH: Ben Lipscomb approves of Mayor Womack's putdown of letter writer.
  • BOO YAH: Ben Lipscomb approves of Mayor Womack's putdown of letter writer.

From: "Lipscomb, Ben"
Date: January 28, 2010 2:33:47 PM CST
To: "Womack, Steve"
Subject: RE: 287 g

Boo Yah!!

BEN LIPSCOMB
Rogers City Attorney

COGER'S RESPONSE TO WOMACK AND LIPSCOMB

Hi Sirs,

I thank you for your responses. While we don't see eye-to-eye on 287 g, I would have you know that I love your city, especially downtown. I occasionally have the pleasure of dining there, and I've been around India, Europe, Mexico, Brazil, and Argentina, and some of the best food I've found is in your enchanting town.

I found your tone a little mean for my taste, but we all communicate differently I suppose. I'm just grateful for a timely response.

In Mr. Lipscomb's letter he suggested that I tried to offer my legal services, well I didn't have that kind of help in mind. I thought if you were interested in removing 287 g you might like me to share my stories about these victims of domestic violence that were too scared to call the police after being beat up before the children's very eyes. I understand though that you aren't interested in removing 287 g, and I apologize for having upset you.
Please stay nice and warm over these next few icy days!

Sincerely,
Stephen

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