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McDaniel's new entourage
When Attorney General Dustin McDaniel got married recently, he had as special guest in the wedding party Jason French, chief of the AG office's new Special Investigations Division and provider of security to the attorney general.
French, 38, and two other certified law enforcement officers have been hired to protect the attorney general and office staff and to work as investigators in federal habeas appeals by convicted inmates. French started work in May and two others will come on board July 1. A fourth officer has yet to be hired. The new hires were created by Act 81 of 2009, which designated the attorney general's office as a law enforcement agency.
Chief Deputy Attorney General Justin Allen said McDaniel's protection is “not going to be a security detail” similar to the governor's, which works around the clock. McDaniel will not be accompanied by French at home or on the weekends and the attorney general will drive himself to and from work. He will most likely be used for travel during the work day, Allen said. McDaniel will not be accompanied by more than one officer “unless there's a direct threat” against him, he said.
Like McDaniel, French is from Jonesboro. He most recently was chief of police in Cherokee Village; previously he was with the Jonesboro Police Department, worked on a drug task force and has been an instructor in law enforcement. Allen said French was at McDaniel's wedding partly as a friend and partly to observe Gov. Mike Beebe's security detail.
AG spokesman Gabe Holmstrom cited the shooting of Democratic Party head Bill Gwatney last summer as evidence of the need for security and said “the decision has been made to abandon the old policy of ignoring the threats and hoping for the best.”
Allen said the Special Investigations Division will post one officer, at a minimum, at all times in the AG's seven-floor office in the Tower Building to provide security. The officers will be armed and will have the power of arrest, Allen said, though he said it was unlikely they would use that power outside the office.
Allen said the office gets, on average, one or two written or phone threats a month and more communications of a “hostile” nature. The division will also investigate the most troubling of those communications.
French will oversee a security procedures plan for the office, the development of which is expected to take months, Holmstrom said.
The officers will replace a private investigator the agency has been using and will take the load off staff attorneys whose investigative duties were “draining our lawyers' time and resources,” Allen said. He said the investigators would help the AG in fending off “serious challenges” being mounted by the federal public defender's office.
Holmstrom noted that the state Insurance Department has “dozens of certified law enforcement officers. The AG's office is grateful to have four.”
The Insurance Department has seven investigators, spokesman Alice Jones said. They investigate Worker's Compensation and other insurance fraud. The department also employs a special prosecutor who works with counties to bring cases to trial.
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