A Pine Bluff City Council alderman is concerned that recent decisions by Police Chief Brenda Davis-Jones will open the city up to lawsuits and cause recent progress in a well-known local cold case to grind to a halt.

A Pine Bluff City Council alderman is concerned that recent decisions by Police Chief Brenda Davis-Jones will open the city up to lawsuits and cause recent progress in a well-known local cold case to grind to a halt.

Alderman Thelma Walker questioned Davis-Jones at the April 16 City Council meeting about a change to PBPD uniform policy without council approval — a mistake she initially attributed to advice from a subordinate, who disputes her version of events and has since been reassigned to a different position — and about spending $747 on an iPhone and accessories, among other issues.

Walker provided The Commercial with copies of the Police Department memos, policies and other records that led her to question Davis-Jones. Attempts since April 20 to follow up with Davis-Jones by phone and by email with additional questions raised by Walker and the documents have been unsuccessful.

Retaliation

Walker said one of the main things she is concerned about is she believes Lt. Bob Rawlinson was retaliated against by Davis-Jones for refusing to agree with her version of events about how a change to the PBPD uniforms failed to go through the City Council for proper approval.

Until earlier this month, Rawlinson was the lieutenant on the daytime detectives shift*** responsible for supervising the sergeants and detectives who investigate felony crimes and was also the department’s public spokesman.

At the April 2 council meeting, Walker asked Davis-Jones about new hats that had been purchased for the police officers.

“No, as long as you have a hat, it doesn’t say that you have to go before the city council to change a hat,” Davis-Jones said.

Walker said that was incorrect, that the change should have come before the council.

“When we talked about it, the person who makes our policy changes, when I asked him that, he said no, that is all that it requires, that you have a hat. It does not specify what kind of hat in the policy,” Davis-Jones said.

Walker asked who she was referring to, and Davis-Jones said Rawlinson.

In a April 16 letter to Redus and Davis-Jones, Rawlinson said Davis-Jones asked him on Jan. 23 to prepare the text of the document notifying the staff of the uniform change. He typed it up and turned it in the next day.

After the April 2 council meeting, Davis-Jones called Rawlinson into the conference room, where Deputy Chief Kelvin Sergeant was also present.

“Chief Davis-Jones asked me if I remembered telling her the Special Order and the Amended Policy did not have to go through the City Council,” Rawlinson stated in the letter. “I responded saying that I would never advise her of violating department policy and would not have told her that. She proposed several times I had told her the amended policy did not have to go through the City Council.”

Rawlinson also stated in the letter that Davis-Jones asked him why he hadn’t submitted the change to the City Council because he was the one who typed it up.

“My response was that I never had anything to do with Special Order 12-01 after that time,” Rawlinson stated in the letter. “The next time I saw it was when it had been signed and disseminated to the detective office.

“I was never asked what steps were next in the process of amending the policy in discussion. I believe lack of communication was a key factor in this incident. It was my contention then, as it is now, that a person assigned to the position responsible for updating policies is responsible for amending the policy and routing it through the proper channels to be approved,” Rawlinson stated in the letter.

Davis-Jones did not respond to an emailed question as to the exact date when Rawlinson was removed from the detective lieutenant position, when he was notified of that change and whether the decision was in retaliation for disagreeing with her. The Commercial does have documentation that he was removed as department spokesman on April 7. Rawlinson notified the press of the change in a notice on April 6.

Walker said she believes the change was retaliation.

“My concern is retaliation, because it happened within days of him not signing the statement that he had given her certain information about the policies he did not,” Walker said. “I’m really concerned about lawsuits about retaliation.”

When Walker brought the item up again during the council meeting on April 16, Davis-Jones took the blame for the mistake and said she would prepare the item and bring it before the council for approval.

Walker asked why Rawlinson had been moved, and Davis-Jones said it was at the request of Sergeant. Mayor Carl A. Redus Jr. then interjected and asked them not to discuss personnel matters in public.

Several PBPD employees have accused Davis-Jones of retaliation in the past. Many of those employees subsequently had the firings/suspensions issued to them by Davis-Jones overturned or reduced by the employee discipline Review Panel and in one case, the City Council. Davis-Jones has said at these review panel hearings that she does not retaliate against employees.

Cold Case

Walker said she is also concerned about Davis-Jones’ decision to move Rawlinson because it comes in the middle of some of the biggest movement seen in years in the Cleashindra Hall disappearance case, which dates back to 1994. She fears that the new staff in place will not take the same interest in the case and the momentum will be lost.

Police spent most of the day on March 29 searching the house of Larry Amos, which is where Hall was last seen before she disappeared. Rawlinson was lead supervisor in the search at the house that day and served as the department spokesman.

When Walker brought up this point with Davis-Jones, the chief responded that Rawlinson had not been the first to re-open the case, and she named an individual she said re-opened it in 2006.

According to the documents submitted by the police department allowing them to obtain a the search warrant for Amos’ house, the key interviews that gave them enough probable cause to obtain the warrant were conducted in January 2012 and December 2011.

Davis-Jones did not respond to email questions about whether those interviews, which took place while Rawlinson was supervisor, were indeed important to the case; Walker’s concerns that the Hall case will again go cold; and whether any additional effort has been expended on the case since he left the post.

iPad/iPhone

Davis-Jones also did not respond to questions about the iPad she often uses in public at work-related functions: Whether it was bought for her by the city; how much it cost; and when it was purchased. She did not respond to a question about why she needed the city to buy her an iPhone 4 when she already had an iPad or if there are work-related things she can’t do on the iPad that she could do with the iPhone.

Walker asked Davis-Jones at the April 16 meeting about $747 she spent on Dec. 14 an iPhone 4, car charger, pink stereo plug cable and $100 in other items that were illegible on a photocopy of the receipt. A total of 11 items were purchased. The iPhone was listed as costing $550. Redus said he approved the expense because the chief needed to be able to tie into the department’s server and its camera system, which the department announced in November 2011 they were planning to launch to aid in the investigation of crimes.

The last time police officials spoke publicly about the system, they were still working through some bugs. Davis-Jones did not respond to email questions about whether the camera system is now working properly.

Vacation Policy

Walker also asked Davis-Jones on April 16 about departmental bulletin she issued on Jan. 4 instructing employees to take all of their vacation time before Nov. 15.

The Policy Manual gives employees until Dec. 31 to take their vacation time.

Davies-Jones and Redus responded to Walker on April 16 that her directive was not a formal change in policy that needed to come before the council, but rather an everyday management item that came under her authority. Davis-Jones said it was necessary so she would have enough officers on staff during the busiest time for crime of the year.

However, the letter from Rawlinson to Redus and Davis-Jones from earlier that day stated that the change appeared to violate departmental policy.

Davis-Jones did not respond to an emailed question about whether she intends to bring the change before the council.

Walker has announced she is running for mayor in November, and Redus accused her at the April 16 council meeting of wasting the public’s time with these questions for political gain.

•••

This article has been corrected from its original version. To view the correction notice, click here.