Pine Bluff homicides, particularly the unsolved ones, were on the minds of two speakers Monday night following a meeting of the City Council, with both speakers appealing for help.
Keith Wilbert, whose son Keith Wilbert Jr. was shot to death during a home invasion on Sept. 23, 2015, said that since the death of his son, time continues to move on. He noted changes in the leadership of the city and the police department but said: “There are no changes in my son’s case.”
“There are no witnesses, no arrests and that is unacceptable,” he said. “The Pine Bluff Police Department Detective Division is clueless.”
According to police reports, Wilbert, who was a student at the University of Arkansas at Pine Bluff, was killed when three armed men wearing hooded sweatshirts and bandanas covering their faces forced their way into a house Wilbert shared with four other students at 4302 Boone Street. Wilbert’s body was found in a bedroom with a gunshot wound to the neck. He was pronounced dead at the scene.
The senior Wilbert asked the council members to reach out to the people they know and ask if any of them have information about the murder.
He also questioned why the department had not offered a reward for information or other unsolved homicides.
At a press conference in April, Police Chief Kelvin Sergeant said the Wilbert family was offering a $20,000 reward for information leading to an arrest.
Wilbert said that his son would have been 23 on Aug. 14, “and while everybody else goes on with business as usual, we will be at the cemetery. Help us get this killer or these killers off the streets before they knock on another door and kill someone else.”
Mayor Shirley Washington told Wilbert that she and the entire community continue to have sympathy for the family and continue to pray for them. She added that she “continues to have conversations with the chief. This case has not grown cold.”
“It may seem like we’re not doing anything and I wish we had more leads,” Washington said. “It may seem like we don’t care but we do.”
Also speaking was Albert Brewer, who heads up the Gloves Not Guns Boxing Club in the city. He said he has been attending meetings of the Citizens Crime Advisory Commission for several months.
“There are not enough of us at the table,” Brewer said, adding that there are no members of the council who attend the meetings.
Brewer said there have been 30 unsolved homicides in Pine Bluff in the last five years and asked if it would be possible to use some of the tax money to offer rewards for information.
“If you offer substantial rewards, the calls are going to start coming in,” he said. “We’ve got to do something. In a meeting, I heard it said people who stay in Pine Bluff love Pine Bluff. I love Pine Bluff.”
During the regular business meeting of the council, an ordinance to waive competitive bidding and allow the Street Department to purchase four vehicles from local vendors, which had been scheduled to be read just once, was adopted after the council, with Alderwoman Thelma Walker absent, agreeing to suspend the rules by reading it all three times and taking a vote.
Both Smart Chevrolet and Trotter Ford agreed to sell the city two three-quarter ton and two one-ton pickup trucks at the same price or below that which the city would pay if they went to a state contract dealer. Neither Smart nor Trotter has a state contract so the city would have had to purchase the vehicles elsewhere if the council had not waived the competitive bid.
A resolution that will allow the mayor to apply for an Outdoor Recreational Grant from the Arkansas Parks and Tourism Department to improve Townsend Park was approved without dissent.
When questioned about the grant, Washington said the total the city is seeking is $500,000, with half of that from the state and the other half to take the form of in-kind services.
Washington said that the city’s new grant writer, Tiffany Copeland, held a public hearing about the city’s parks last week, and improvements to Townsend Park were among the things mentioned. She said that the city is looking at the possibility of an in-ground swimming pool at the park as well as a number of other options, but no final decision has been made.
Also approved was a resolution appropriating $22,606.13 to the Merrill Center, which the city received from the District Courts for installment payments of fines and fees. The resolution will allow the director/manager of the center will decide how the money is to be spent, which could include upgrading computers, gaming equipment or facilities.
Also Monday, the following appointments were approved by the council:Zachary Taylor to the Pine Bluff Civic Auditorium Commission.John Frederick Mitchell to the Pine Bluff Historic District Commission.Stuart W. Hee to the Pine Bluff Historic District Commission.Joey Gieringer reappointed to the Pine Bluff/Jefferson County Port Authority.Diane Tatum appointed to the Pine Bluff Port Authority.