Editor's Note: This version of the story corrects an earlier error regarding the number of years that Pine Bluff Police Chief Ivan Whitfield has been with the department.
In his 35 years with the Pine Bluff Police Department, Chief Ivan Whitfield said he has “never gotten a call like I got last Saturday morning.”
Whitfield was referring to a lengthy stand-off between officers and an armed man who had fired shots at a police car and an officer before he was finally taken into custody when members of the SWAT team fired tear gas into a duplex where the man had holed up.
The officers involved in that standoff were recognized Wednesday during a meeting of the City Council's Public Safety Committee at City Hall. Whitfield said he was in Helena to attend a funeral when Assistant Chief Kelvin Sergeant called him with the first report, adding that in the military, when soldiers go into unfriendly territory they receive hazardous duty pay.
“When you put on a badge, a gun and a vest, that's hazardous duty,” Whitfield said.
Each officer who was involved in the incident was presented a certificate by Whitfield, Sergeant, Mayor Shirley Washington and Alderwoman Thelma Walker, chairman of the Public Safety Committee. They began with Officer Abdias Valdez, who was dispatched to the Cypress Drive area to check out a report of a man with a gun.
Whitfield said Vadez, who has been with the department for six months and only recently was released from being a field training officer to work solo, had two bullet holes in his car from where the suspect shot at him.
“In 35 years, I never got a hole put in my car,” Whitfield said.
Officer Julie Hilliard also responded, coming from the opposite direction.
“She followed her training and located the suspect,” Whitfield said. “He was taunting her, but she kept her cool and called for help when he ran into a house.”
After other officers arrived, they set up a perimeter around the house, and Whitfield said at that time, officers discovered that the house where the suspect — later identified as Robert Levern Jones, 49 — had run into was a duplex, the other side of which was occupied.
“A woman came out, and we found out that there was a child and the woman's five grandchildren in the house so our officers had to go in and get them out,” Whitfield said. “It was 4:15 in the morning and 29 degrees.”
Jones fired another shot out the window of the duplex, hitting another police car and causing several officers to dive to the ground.
“Chief Sergeant saw them go to the ground and thought 'Oh God, I've lost an officer,'” Whitfield said. “That's something he will never forget.”
The department's SWAT team responded, and in Whitfield's words, “Soaked that house and soaked it and soaked it and he fired another shot at them, but they kept their cool, and after the gas got to him, he gave up.”
He said it was difficult for him being 100 miles away while the incident was unfolding, but he was confident that Sergeant and the other supervisors and officers who were there would be able to handle the situation and bring it to a successful resolution.
“At the end of the day, a young man who was somebody's son was still alive and nobody was injured,” Whitfield said.
Washington said that the police brand “Pine Bluff's finest” was deserving based on their actions in the incident.
“They deserve the title,” she said.