A former Pine Bluff police detective who was fired wants his job back and places the blame for his firing on a deputy chief of police.
Marvin Cawthon told a three-member review committee Thursday that Deputy Chief Billy Elliott ordered Cawthon’s supervisors, Sgt. Michael Roberts and Sgt. Derric Neal, to write three reports that served as the basis for his termination.
The panel, Assistant City Attorney Jennifer Montgomery, Fire and Emergency Services Battalion Chief Harold Clark and City Maintenance Supervisor Steve Stephens, will have 10 days to release their findings. They could uphold the decision to fire Cawthon, modify the discipline imposed or throw out the decision completely.
In his testimony, Cawthon said the first incident occurred when he was working a homicide on July 29 as the lead detective and was the only detective on the scene. He said Elliott was on the scene and told Roberts later that he (Elliott) had had minimal interaction with Cawthon.
Officers recovered a cell phone from the victim, and Cawthon said he was walking to his car, which was about a block-and-a-half away, to get a chain of custody form for the crime scene technician so she could give him the phone when Elliott told him, “don’t worry about it,” and said he could get the phone later at the coroner’s office.
Cawthon said the crime scene technician got called out to a second homicide, which occurred that evening, running into the early morning, and he was not able to get the cell phone until later.
He said Roberts approached him and said Elliott was “pissed at you,” and Roberts said he had been asked to write a report.
Cawthon said Roberts had not been present at the crime scene to hear the exchange between Elliott and himself.
“It was my word against the deputy chief, so what chance did I have?” Cawthon said.
Police Chief Kelvin Sergeant told the panel that one of the first things officers do at crime scenes is to look for a cell phone to see who the victim might have had contact with. The chief said that while Roberts was not at the scene, he was still responsible for the actions of the detectives working under him.
“He said (to Roberts) that Chief Elliott told him not to worry about the phone, but Chief Elliott said ‘that never happened,’” Sergeant said.
A second incident, which resulted in a second report, occurred the day after the homicide when Cawthon said he was written up because his police car had run out of gas. He said detectives had received a tip about a possible suspect and were going to try and pick up that suspect when the car he was driving stopped at 31st Avenue and Fir Street. He told Neal that he thought the fuel pump in the car had gone out because he remembered looking at the gas gauge and saw that he had a half-tank of gas.
Cawthon said Roberts counseled him about the incident, but 22 days after that, he was written up.
“If I was counseled, why take 22 days?” Cawthon said. “It sounds like a wild witch hunt.”
Sergeant said that running out of gas is an insignificant incident that probably would have resulted in only a counseling session. He added that detectives had met and staged at 28th Avenue and Fir Street before going to look for the suspect, and Cawthon ran out of gas three blocks from that location.
“All he had to do was say he ran out of gas, but instead he said the fuel pump went out,” Sergeant said.
Cawthon was also charged with insubordination and neglect of duty for not completing case files in a timely manner.
Cawthon said that when Lt. David DeFoor took over as swing shift lieutenant, he told all the detectives they were behind on their case files and needed to get them caught up. He also complained that he was the only detective on swing shift who had not been sent to investigations training, including three detectives who were assigned to the office after he was.
He placed the blame on then-Detective Lt. Billy Dixon, who Cawthon said was “removed because of a hostile work environment. Lt. Dixon and Deputy Chief Elliott talked.”
Sergeant said Dixon was not reassigned because of a hostile work environment and said when Cawthon’s office was cleaned out, case files dating back to March were found.
“They were very simple cases, sexual assault, aggravated assault, terroristic threatening, and they had suspects listed,” Sergeant said. “The community depends on us working those cases.”
Sergeant said it was true that Cawthon had not been sent to the investigations school like other detectives because “interviewing is not his problem.” He also said that the department tried to work with Cawthon, who was also going to barber school at the time, to find a time he could go to the investigations school.
Cawthon also contended that there was no proof, no facts, to back up the reports from Roberts and Neal. He said he sent a letter to Sergeant asking to speak to him but didn’t get an answer.
“I turned in stuff I was asked to,” Cawthon said. “If I’m going to be fired, terminated, based on somebody’s word, what kind of police department do we have? I will not admit to lies told about me.”
Sergeant said the reports written by Roberts and Neal were not hearsay as Cawthon claimed.
“He said Elliott told them to write him up and that’s not true,” the chief said. “The sergeants came to him and he told them that if it was a cardinal offense to write it up.”