Thanks to a commenter on the blog for a tip on the continuing mystery surrounding the shooting of a yet-to-be-identified Malvern cop and the equally mysterious $500,000 reward put up by Joe Beard, president of Dallas-based Westdale Asset Management, for the capture of the officer's assailant -- a man described by the officer as a 6- foot-2 to 6-foot-4-inch hunter with a scraggly, full beard. The officer reported that he came across the man bowhunting illegally before 1 a.m. last Friday. When he tried to cuff the hunter, the officer told investigators, a struggle ensued. The officer reportedly broke a four-inch knife off in the attacker's chest after the hunter took his service weapon and shot him. An extensive search that included tracking dogs has found no sign of the assailant.
The aforementioned tip led us to the Hot Spring County circuit clerk's office, where a little phone time revealed a lawsuit filed April 4
by Beard and his wife Sherry against Brian and Holly Johnson of Malvern. While Joe Beard wasn't forthcoming about the suit when we reached him at his office in Dallas, he did say that the Brian Johnson named in the lawsuit is the Malvern police officer shot by that mysterious hunter (a spokesman for the Malvern police refused to confirm or deny that information). Beard also confirmed that Johnson is married to Sherry Beard's niece.
In the lawsuit, obtained by the Arkansas Times this afternoon, the Beards claim that they wrote checks to Brian and Holly Johnson or their creditors totaling just under $32,000 in July and August of 2007. The Beards claim they were never paid back. In a separate affidavit, Joe Beard calls the money "advances," though the lawsuit never states exactly what the money was to be used for.
All this -- a $500,000 reward, put up by someone who less than a month before had filed a civil lawsuit against the officer; a mysterious assailant fitting the vague description of Bigfoot, who disappeared so wholly that dogs couldn't even track him -- brings skeptical minds to an obvious theory: That Beard is willing to risk a half million dollars (he’s a man of means; his company is a huge apartment developer) because he doesn't believe there’s any risk he’ll have to pay it. To believe that, the theory continues, he must also believe there is no assailant.
Bluntly asked that very question more than once, Beard would only repeat that he found the officer's story to be "incredible," and wants justice done. His collective comments, however, suggest that he believes there was never an encounter in the Malvern woods.
"The $500,000 is an amount that everybody is going to look at and realize that, if there is a person out there, this is going to bring that person to justice," Beard said. "I was afraid earlier in the week that this was just going to go away and there wouldn't be anything else said about it... Let's ask the questions. Where is this guy? He didn't come from New Orleans to go hunting up in Malvern. He had to be a local individual, if he exists."
Beard said that he had called the Arkansas State Police on Monday, and was told that the Malvern police had declined ASP offers of assistance in the investigation. He also noted the lack of physical evidence that has turned up so far. "Now they're saying that he was able to evade police, make it out through a rock quarry," he said. "He's got a four-inch knife shaft in him, and he's carrying a compound bow, but he doesn't drop a hat, an arrow, a lighter, any person belonging."
Beard said that above all, he hopes the incident will stay in the news until the whole truth is known. "I hope that people like you will write about it, will look into it, will look into the police procedures," Beard said. "It appears that the Malvern Police believe this story entirely."
Malvern police spokesman J.D. Bailey said that he couldn't confirm or deny whether the officer involved in the shooting was Officer Brian Johnson. Police have refused to release the identity of the officer, claiming at various times that this was being done out of consideration for him and because the name was part of an ongoing investigation and thus exempt from disclosure under the Freedom of Information Act. Bailey said that he was not aware of the $500,000 reward, and that such a reward has not been "addressed through our department." He did say that a smaller reward -- $1,000 -- had been put up locally for the capture of the officer's assailant.
UPDATE: Dallas businessman Joe Beard, he of the $500,000 reward, has read our item, and phoned to say that he's "disturbed" by the fact that Malvern police spokesperson J.D. Bailey seems to be disregarding his half-million dollar reward Beard said the chief financial ifficer of his company talked to two cops at the Malvern PD as late as yesterday to discuss the validity of the reward fund and to verify that the company both has the money and plans to pay it if the officer's assailant is identified. "We were cleared by them," he said. "They told us it was fine to set it up." Beard said the reward fund will be handled through Summit National Bank, and added that the process of setting it up has been "difficult."
Another interesting tidbit from Beard: Officer Brian Johnson was served with papers in Beard's $31,000 civil suit against him on Thursday, April 17 -- the day before he was supposedly shot during a 1 a.m., life-and-death struggle with a combative bowhunter in the Malvern woods.