Friday, April 1, 2016

Gun drawn at Jefferson County Election Commission meeting

Posted By on Fri, Apr 1, 2016 at 12:48 PM

STU SOFFER: Gun at the ready at election commission meeting, newspaper reports.
  • STU SOFFER: Gun at the ready at election commission meeting, newspaper reports.
The Pine Bluff Commercial's Ray King reports today that a member of the Jefferson County Election Commission pulled a gun on a former commissioner member yesterday.

Republican Stu Soffer pulled the gun. He indicates it was in self-defense. Soffer told the Commercial that Ted Davis, a Democrat, attacked him while he was holding the door open and he had no place to retreat. He told King he pulled a handgun out of his pocket and held it at his side, but did not point it at Davis.

“I’m 74 years old and I was in fear of my life,” Soffer said.
The incident occurred after Chairman Mike Adam, also a Republican, adjourned the meeting. The news account said he adjourned the meeting because a Democrat, Michael McCray, insisted on talking about an issue that Adam said could not be discussed because it had been referred to prosecutors. Davis objected to adjournment because he wanted to talk about a proposal for the Quorum Court to give the commission authority to hire and fire election coordinators. That's currently the responsibility of the county judge. 

According to the Commercial, Davis said the change of authority was racially motivated. Hank Wilkins IV, who is black, recently defeated the incumbent county judge, Dutch King, in the Democratic primary and will take office next year.

Soffer and Adam left, while a third commissioner, Democrat Cynthia Sims, remained. The Election Commission and election procedures have been a source of ongoing tension in Jefferson County, to put it mildly, with both race and partisan divides figuring into various disputes.

Police responded and took a report, but made no arrest. The Commercial account said Davis was told to contact the city attorney if he wanted to file a complaint. 

I expect to hear more. Representatives of Davis say they have a video of the incident. I've sought a comment from Soffer as well.

UPDATE: Soffer has replied by e-mail, in detail. I'm going to give you the whole thing, unedited. The State Police, having been informed by me of a gun incident involving a concealed carry permit holder, confirms that they've been in communication with the Pine Bluff police and will review for compliance with permit requirements. His first defense will be self-defense.


Soffer's statement:

A group of Democrats associated with County Judge Elect Henry “Hank” Wilkins IV, (aka Senator/Representative/Reverend) campaign have been creating distractions, violating election laws and in general distracting the election commission from conducting regular business. It reached the point we began requesting security for election commission meetings. We also established rules for meetings (enclosed) which in the past few meetings have been ignored by many of last night’s participants. When the meeting began, the chairman informed all that the rules of decorum would be enforced and asked all for cooperation.

As part of the agenda, we referred several alleged violations of law to the Prosecuting Attorney for review and a determination. Among them were the actions of Henry Wilkins, V and Michael McCray, who were credentialed poll watchers. Courthouse video shows both entering the early voting machine area after early voting ended and being closer than 6 feet to voting machines and out of camera view with one machine for a short time. Both signed an affirmation on their poll watcher form that they understood poll watcher rules and responsibilities on the reverse of that form. One rule was they could not be closer than 6’ to a voting machine. McCray got up during public comments and wanted to debate his actions. The chairman told him we would not discuss an issue referred to the prosecutor and asked him to stop. McCray refused and kept talking. The chairman asked him several times to stop then declared him out of order. Both the chairman and I had talked to election attorneys earlier in the day and understood what the options for dealing with situations like this were. Since the agenda had been completed and there was no one else signed up to make public comments, I motioned to adjourn, it passed two to one and Mike Adam and I left the building. On the way out, Hank Wilkins IV and former election commission chairman Theodis “Ted” Davis said they had signed up to make public comments. Neither Mike nor I saw where they had indicated that on the sign-in sheet and said so. There was a cameraman filming the meeting for either Hank Wilkins IV or Ted Davis. When we walked out Ted Davis started ranting about how an ordinance we are asking the Quorum Court to pass to delegate hiring the election coordinator to the election commission – something Davis wanted when he was election commission chairman, was racist. He was posturing for the camera.

Once outside, Mike called 911 so we could get the building cleared and the coordinator could lock up and go home. I didn’t have a good feeling about how events were developing and when I placed my election secretary materials into my car parked outside the door, I placed a small derringer type pistol in my pocket. I have a concealed carry permit. I opened the door, informed all the police were on the way, and again asked all to leave. I also instructed the coordinator to lock herself in her office for safety.

I stood there with my back holding the glass door open when Davis walked out, came awfully close to me and I thought he was going to try a sucker punch, walked out to the street all the while ranting about something. When he saw people starting to exit the building he came back towards me in an aggressive manner, still yelling about something with a weird look on his face. Because my back was against the door I could not retreat and removed the small weapon from my pocket and held it pointing toward the ground, covered by my hand, against the back of my leg – out of view. Chairman Mike Adam saw it was apparent Davis was going to assault me and ran at him waving his hands shouting “don’t you dare assault that commissioner” or something like that. That seemed to snap Davis out of whatever trance he was in and he stopped. I returned the weapon to my pocket but the wife of Hank Wilkins IV started shouting “he pulled a gun, he pulled a gun”.

The entire episode was on video and I noticed the cameraman who was coming out the door filmed my hand holding the weapon against my leg. The video was viewed by Major Lafayette Woods of the Jefferson County Sheriff’s Department who commented in his capacity as an individual and not on behalf of the Sheriff’s Department, FYI, I viewed the video footage and it didn't seem at all to depict anything that would constitute displaying or brandishing a weapon unless what I viewed does not depict the incident in its entirety.

I did not speak to Davis last night nor for the past several months and have ignored him.

Ted Davis almost struck Chairman Adam during the Primary at a polling site. Mike was talking with Pine Bluff Deputy Police Chief Ivan Whitfield, who in addition to Davis, was a candidate for mayor. Davis came up to Mike, told him he didn’t know what the f he was talking about, cursed him and yelled profanities. Davis who is hot tempered has been unusually out of control recently and the belief in the African-American community is it began when the Pine Bluff Commercial reported his owing the IRS and Arkansas substantial back taxes, something like $40-50,000. Then he lost his bid for mayor further humiliating him. My belief is he is losing it mentally and maybe these acts against Mike and I are intended to bolster his standing.

I am so bothered by events which I believe are being orchestrated by Hank Wilkins, IV, I am considering a run for county judge as an independent candidate. 4,069 voted for Hank Wilkins in the March 1 Democratic Primary. 3,707 voted for Ivan Whitfield in the March 1 Democratic Primary

In other words, 7,776 voted for other than Dutch King the County Judge races. Or stated differently, 1,161 less than a combination of Dutch King voters and Republican voters.

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