Trooper off the streets -- UPDATE | Arkansas Blog

Friday, December 14, 2007

Trooper off the streets -- UPDATE

Posted By on Fri, Dec 14, 2007 at 11:00 AM

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The State Police have announced that Trooper Thomas Weindruch,  whose actions in arresting Stephens Media news reporter Bill Lawson at a Maumelle house fire are the subject of a complaint by the reporter, has been removed from regular duty. He was assigned non-uniform office duty. News release on the jump. The picture is one of those taken by Lawson that got him in trouble.

UPDATE: The charge against Lawson has been dropped. Bill Lawson's statement is on the jump, following the State Police release.

STATE POLICE NEWS RELEASE

Arkansas State Trooper Thomas Weindruch has been removed from enforcement duty status and effective Thursday evening, December 13, 2007 was assigned to temporary office duties inside the department’s headquarters facility.  State Police Director Colonel Winford Phillips has ordered Weindruch not to wear the uniform of the department, nor should he make any attempt to act in the capacity of a law enforcement officer.  The reassignment will continue during the course of an on-going internal affairs investigation based on the complaint of Stephen Media reporter, Bill Lawson.

Lawson has accused Trooper Weindruch of inappropriate and hostile behavior on Monday evening (December 10, 2007) in Maumelle while Lawson was attempting to photograph a house fire scene. 

Trooper Weindruch arrested and charged Lawson with obstructing a governmental operation.  The Arkansas State Police has provided 6th Judicial District Prosecuting Attorney Larry Jegley with all documents and a video recording relating to the incident for his investigation into that misdemeanor charge.

Meanwhile, Colonel Phillips has directed the department’s Internal Affairs staff to make this case a priority investigation.  Colonel Phillips has requested a written report to be submitted from the Internal Affairs staff to the Highway Patrol Division commander as quickly as all statements and evidence relating to the Maumelle incident can be collected.

Colonel Phillips has stated that incidents of inappropriate behavior by an employee of the Arkansas State Police will not be tolerated and that incidents such as this one, or any other, brought to his attention will be thoroughly investigated.

BILL LAWSON STATEMENT

All Charges against me were dropped this afternoon.

It's still a sad day when a journalist can be arrested for just doing your job. But it's a testament to our judicial system that although it is purposefully slow and thorough, it clearly works. There was never any doubt on my part but I pray that this never happens to another journalist again. I'm thankful that I work for such an outstanding organization as Stephens Media that stood behind me and hired legal counsel the night it happened. I can't adequately express the admiration I have for our managing editor Eric Francis and our publisher Dennis Byrd. I would hope that the small town journalist would receive the same honest treatment.

Every other single member of the Arkansas State Police that I have had interaction with in the last forty years has been very professional and a credit to this state and I trust that their prompt attention to this matter will enhance their reputation for fairness and honestly.

This has been a difficult week for me that started out covering a school board meeting and a routine fire. In the last week, I've heard from people around the country that I was in the Army with decades ago, supportive journalists from every part of the United States and old friends that I had not heard from in years. But I was also formally charged with a crime I didn't commit and I've heard from the kooks and the people who choose to believe the worst about you. I don't know how you ever regain any semblance of what you lose through such an episode. The notoriety you garner when such a story captivates not just the state but to some extent the country is difficult to undue.. I've never claimed to be perfect but how do I regain my good name? Too many people heard the arrest story but will never hear about the dropping of charges.

It has been a reassuring lesson that our system of government works. We still have Freedom of the Press and we are a country of checks and balances where residents and journalists alike can be protected from false arrest.

It has been a tough week but it ends well. I am grateful for all of my fellow journalists who helped to shine the bright light of public scrutiny upon this egregious miscarriage of justice.  I just pray that never again will a journalist nor any citizen be improperly arrested and subjected to what I had to endure. I also  pray that the entire justice system works as well for them as it did for me.

Bill Lawson

 

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