Mayor suspends Jonesboro police chief 30 days without pay for comments about reporter | Arkansas Blog

Friday, August 22, 2014

Mayor suspends Jonesboro police chief 30 days without pay for comments about reporter

Posted By on Fri, Aug 22, 2014 at 1:41 PM

MIKE YATES: Jonesboro mayor to issue statement today on police chief. It's overdue.
  • MIKE YATES: Jonesboro mayor to issue statement today on police chief. It's overdue.
UPDATE: Jonesboro Mayor Harold Perrin has announced he'll suspend Police Chief Mike Yates for 30 days without pay as a result of his actions, including derogatory Facebook posts, aimed at Jonesboro Sun police reporter Sunshine Crump and the newspaper.

The mayor's prepared statement:

At 1:00 p.m. this afternoon, Jonesboro Mayor Harold Perrin suspended Chief of Police Mike Yates for 30 days without pay as part of disciplinary action stemming from recent posts on his Facebook account directed towards a reporter from The Sun. The suspension was immediate. Assistant Chief of Police Tim Eads will serve as acting Chief during Yates’s suspension.

Yates was also ordered to complete a training course to be determined by the Mayor’s Office and related to the online media posts. The Mayor has directed the city’s Human Resource Director to present him with a list of appropriate training opportunities. The training must take place and be completed during the 30 day suspension.

The Mayor also directed Chief Yates to issue a formal, written letter of apology to both former Sun reporter Sunshine Crump as well as The Sun. Proof of those apology letters must be presented before reinstatement of his duties with pay. In addition, Perrin has directed the City Attorney’s office to conduct a review of FOIA policies currently in place at the Jonesboro Police Department and to notify him and acting Chief Eads of any violations so they can be immediately corrected.

Lastly, Perrin issued a written warning to Yates stating that “…future use of social media or any other forms of personal communication to imply threats, actions or consequences tied to your influence or authority as Chief of Police or as an employee of the City of Jonesboro will be cause for immediate termination.”

“This has been a challenging week for me,” Perrin said in a release statement. “These last few days have been long. This is not the sort of thing I want to be taking my time and the city’s resources dealing with. We have far too many important issues that affect our community that have been robbed of our full attention, and that is tragic. To say that I am disappointed is an understatement.”

Perrin said that throughout his investigation and consideration of what action to take, one thing became clear. “There was not a single decision that I could make that was going to make everyone happy,” Perrin said. “There were many that were outraged and rushed to the conclusion that I should act in a certain way, and many others that were supportive of the Chief and rushed to the conclusion that I should act in another. At the end of the day, I had to weigh all the factors in play, including not only this one particular series of events involving Chief Yates, but also the job he has done for the citizens of Jonesboro during his entire tenure as our Chief of Police.

“Not a single one of us is infallible, and any human being is capable of erring in judgment and making mistakes. But like all decisions, those made by the Chief have consequences. I do not condone the comments that Chief Yates made through social media concerning Ms. Crump or her employer, and I have made it clear through my disciplinary action that I will not tolerate any such future behavior.”

“I have carefully weighed all my options and firmly feel that this is the best course of action to take at this particular time. I pray that we can all move past this as a community, learn from our mistakes, and get back to serving the citizens in a manner that instills confidence and pride in our city.”

I've sent phone and e-mail messages to Yates for comment. No word yet. I'd asked specifically about plans for changes in FOI procedures and an apology to Crump, also whether he still felt the 1st Amendment protected what he'd said.

I've asked the Sun, too, for comment on the mayor's action.

The mayor's office has released under the FOI some materials related to the case.


The mayor also was supplied with some sample police chief Facebook posts, such as:

click to enlarge yatesonfb.png

As noted previously, reporter Crump has no police record, apart from a minor charge, dismissed, in an anti-war protest 11 years ago. If the chief knew about that, you have to wonder how. Even police officers risk a felony offense for doing random background checks without justification on the national criminal information computer system. Also, her law license wasn't "revoked." She quit practicing and stopped paying Texas bar dues and allowed it to go into suspension.

UPDATE: Jonesboro City Attorney Phillip Crego, who worked with the mayor on reviewing whether what the chief had done amounted to actions bearing on his official duties (they did) and whether discipline was needed (it was), said they had inquired about whether Yates had accessed the Arkansas or national crime information systems for information on Crump. Crego said they believed Yates had not. He said Yates indicated his information came from a web search. Crego said Yates had accepted the proposed punishment and also waived the normal notice procedure, which allowed the mayor to announce the outcome immediately.

UPDATE II: Jimromenesko.com gets a comment from Sun publisher David Mosesso. 

Sun publisher David Mosesso calls the punishment “a slap on the wrist” and tells me that “we don’t think he’s fit to continue in his role as police chief. But we have to accept it and hopefully we’ll all move on.”

...Will Crump return to the paper now that the chief has been slapped?

“We don’t know,” says Mosesso. “I talked to her today, and we’re going to talk again on Monday.” The publisher says another newspaper in his chain has offered to hire the reporter if she doesn’t return to the Sun, “but it’s 200 miles away.”

Following is what I wrote earlier today:

Jonesboro Mayor Harold Perrin plans to issue a statement today concerning the city's police chief, Mike Yates, whose ugly comments on Facebook and a pattern of official harassment contributed to the recent resignation of Jonesboro Sun police reporter Sunshine Crump.

The mayor is past due to issue a firm statement against cyber bullying by the city police chief and against abuse of the Freedom of Information Act by apparent obstacles presented to information gathering by the Sun.  He is, in my view, overdue in firing Yates, who not only hasn't denied his ugly Facebook posts (now scrubbed) about the reporter — from a scatological reference to defamatory personal comments — he's defended them as constitutionally protected speech.

The 1st Amendment protects citizens from government. It is ironic — shameful really — to see government use the 1st Amendment as an excuse for government abuse of a citizen journalist.

The Sun has hired a lawyer over Yates' behavior. He came to town with a sketchy reputation in Georgia. His actions here indicate he came by that reputation for a reason.

ALSO: The Sun has a story today, available only to subscribers, which raises the question of whether the chief's Facebook comments amounted to a violation of the city policy manual. You'd hope a policy manual was prepared for such. Imagine if an officer under Yates' command had said what he said about a citizen without backup? Would he or she still be working today? Policies prohibit harassing communications. It also says this:

“You should always be civil, orderly and courteous in your conduct and behavior. You must be aware that every time you contact the public your appearance, actions and status are taken for those of the city. When dealing with the public, you should try to make your conduct create respect for both you and the city. This will help promote the cooperation and approval of the public. Not everyone you meet in the course of your duties will be courteous. Even so, you should treat the public as you would like to be treated . . . with courtesy, patience, respect and understanding. This approach to public service is very important.”


See the full Sun article, republished with their permission, on the jump.

KAIT has an update here, which includes its own independent verification of the falsity of Yates' implications about Crump. As we reported earlier, she was suspended from the Texas bar for the simple reason that she decided to stop paying dues because she no longer practiced. She has a clean criminal record, despite Yates' implication, apart from a 2003 charge (dismissed) for participating in an anti-war protest. For once, Yates bit his tongue yesterday when KAIT asked for comment.

JUDGE GRIFFEN: His comments on police anger Fraternal Order of Police. Wonder what FOP thinks about how Chief Yates reflects on police everywhere?
  • JUDGE GRIFFEN: His comments on police anger Fraternal Order of Police. Wonder what FOP thinks about how Chief Yates reflects on police everywhere?

The silence from official parties relative to Yates' conduct brings to mind a story last night on Fox 16. In it, the Arkansas Fraternal Order of Police issued a statement critical of Circuit Judge Wendell Griffen for his comments directed at Ferguson, Mo., police in the aftermath of the slaying of Michael Brown. Griffen wrote on the Arkansas Blog and his own blog about the cultural incompetence of the response to such incidents and poor police leadership. Said the FOP:

"Officers of the organization are not happy with the stance Judge Wendell Griffen is taking and the comments he's making on social media concerning law enforcement officers in Ferguson, Missouri as well as local law enforcement officers."

The FOP thinks Griffen's comment reflect poorly on all police, including those in Arkansas. You think the FOP might get worked up about the police chief in Jonesboro?

On the jump, the Sun's reporting today:

By Dustin Azlin

JONESBORO — When Jonesboro Police Chief Mike Yates posted potentially defamatory comments on social media about a Sun reporter, he may have broken conduct policies listed in the city’s employee handbook.

The City of Jonesboro Employee Handbook is posted online on the city’s website, and there are multiple entries inside that deal with misconduct of city employees.

Yates’ alleged misconduct stemmed from multiple posts he wrote on Facebook which attacked former Sun reporter Sunshine Crump’s character. Yates admitted he disliked Crump’s reporting on his officers, and he never hid the fact that he wanted her to cover another area of news.

He added that he didn’t want her to lose her job, he only wanted to not deal with her anymore.

Crump resigned from The Sun at the beginning of this week, saying she felt unsafe working the police beat in Jonesboro.

In posting those comments on social media, Yates may have violated conduct policies spelled out in the city’s employee handbook.

If city owned resources were used to post the comments, Yates may have violated the city’s computer use policy.

According to the handbook, equipment and resources can’t be used for knowingly transmitting any communications of a harassing nature, including any transmission that may be construed as discrimination or harassment, and distribution of communications of a defamatory or threatening nature or containing profanity.

In one of Yates’ Facebook posts, he referred to a Sun staffer with an expletive.

In Section 4 of the handbook, Standards of Conduct, there is a policy that determines how city employees act toward the public, which media outlets represent.

That Conduct Towards the Public section reads:

“You should always be civil, orderly and courteous in your conduct and behavior. You must be aware that every time you contact the public your appearance, actions and status are taken for those of the city. When dealing with the public, you should try to make your conduct create respect for both you and the city. This will help promote the cooperation and approval of the public. Not everyone you meet in the course of your duties will be courteous. Even so, you should treat the public as you would like to be treated . . . with courtesy, patience, respect and understanding. This approach to public service is very important.”

The City of Jonesboro doesn’t have any policies regarding social media posts from city employees.

In the General section of the conduct policies, the use of profanity or abusive language is prohibited and may subject the individual involved to disciplinary action.

Under the Conduct Guidelines section, an employee can violate policy whether at work or off the clock.

“Whether you are on duty or off duty, your conduct reflects on the city. You should observe the highest standards of professionalism at all times,” the handbook stated.

The guidelines section goes on to list several different prohibited actions, including an entry that prohibits the intentional abuse of an employee’s position of authority over the citizenry.

Another rule expands on conduct as it pertains to the city as a whole.

“Misconduct of any nature adversely affecting the city’s best interests and reputation. This may include, but is not limited to, rudeness, insolence, or other improper conduct, including vulgarity and excessive use of profane language, toward another employee, citizen, visitor, or vendor,” the handbook reads.

Jonesboro City Attorney Phillip Crego told The Sun on Thursday that nothing new can be released about the city’s investigation into Yates’ Facebook posts. He said Wednesday he hopes to have a decision on any possible disciplinary action by today. He added that depending on the action taken, if any, some information may not be released due to privacy exemptions to the Freedom of Information Act.

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