A special called meeting of the Arkansas County Quorum Court was held Friday morning at the Arkansas County Courthouse to discuss Wright's behavior and present a resolution requesting his resignation
A casual conversation at the neighborhood Piggly Wiggly in DeWitt turned into a racist rant between now resigned Arkansas County Sheriff Todd Wright and the mother of his child, Desiree Middlebrooks.
Middlebrooks was on the receiving end of verbal threats from Wright after she made a friendly encounter with a black employee, identified as Nick Clark. She secretly recorded Wright as he expressed his rage, referring to Clark as a dread head n***** and calling the mother of his child a n***** lover.
A special called Quorum Court meeting was held Friday morning at 10 a.m. at the Arkansas County Courthouse to discuss Wright’s behavior and present a resolution requesting his resignation.
“After viewing and hearing the video I was terribly upset to know that we have someone out here that’s supposed to be taking care of us, protecting and serving to have that kind of opinion of me-- I’m using me as a race because of my color,” said Justice of the Peace Inez Mclemore.
Mclemore expressed the fear she had for the inmates the Sheriff Department oversees because of the thoughts of their leader.
“If you have a mental problem I think you should get help because the degrading words that you used rolled off of your tongue too well,” said Mclemore. ““If the head is corrupt, the whole body is corrupt.”
In a limited capacity of 90 people allowed in the courtroom due to COVID-19, many community members expressed their hurt, anger and outrage amongst themselves as they waited for their turn to vocally express it directly to Wright who sat in the corner of the courtroom.
With his body language slouched in his chair, he addressed the room stating what was done was in the privacy of his own home. Blaming his actions on the devil, Wright said the video was recorded because he was mad at Middlebrooks because he missed a funeral of his friend, who was black, trying to locate her.
He also mentioned many of his black constituents who he had formed bonds with such as Pastor Charles Banks, a former gang member who turned his life around and Frank Bledsaw known in Stuttgart for his run ins with the law but now a success story of second chances and success.
“I’m a Christian man. I read my bible everyday,” said Wright. “I am by no means a racist. That video does not show the true picture of me.”
Todd apologized for his actions but the public was not satisfied, as they demanded for a resignation.
“If it’s in your heart, in your mind and you say it, you mean it,” said Mclemore. “What you did on that video brought a world of separation.”
Mclemore said the community no longer trusted Wright and he needed to resign and get help.
The Arkansas County Quorum Court passed a resolution requesting the resignation of Arkansas County Sheriff Todd Wright unanimously. The resolution stated his conduct was detrimental for him to perform his duties.
Arkansas County Judge Eddie Best made it known to the public the court did not have the authority to fire Wright and could only request him to resign.
As the floor opened for public comment family and friends of Clark addressed Wright with hurt in their voices and pain in their hearts.
“The guy he was speaking of, that’s my nephew,” said Betty Wofford. “He wouldn’t come here today. He doesn’t like this kind of stuff but he’s hurt.”
Wofford described her nephew as a family man, who works two jobs – the Highway Department and Piggly Wiggly.
“I don’t believe anything you just said. You have to say this stuff because you want to keep your job,” said Wofford who also expressed how Wright has not engaged himself with the community of DeWitt in his position as Sheriff.
Clark’s mom described her son as a pillar of the community known by everyone.
“I don’t feel that was right for you to call him out of his name like that-- a dreadlock n*****. That’s exactly what your words were,” she said stating her son hasn’t been back to work due to hurt and embarrassment. “I do wish that you would resign or get fired.”
She asked for a personal apology for her son. As she took her seat Justice of the Peace Curtis Ahrens apologized to the hurting mother for what the family was enduring.
The media attention of the viral recording reached millions of ears, attracting the attention of civil rights leaders and national activist abroad. Jackie Smith, a Little Rock native, is a national activist by way of Atlanta, Chicago and New York, nationally known for her works for equality and justice for people of color.
Traveling to Arkansas earlier that morning and stating she had CNN on standby, she told Wright if he didn’t want people coming and tearing up the city, he needed to resign immediately.
“I traveled a long ways to let you know Todd, it’s unacceptable,” she said. “You wonder why we riot. You wonder why we loot -- because you’re teaching us what hate is. That is not what we want to do.”
Making a bold statement, she said she would call a national meeting and bring national people to DeWitt because every action causes a reaction.
“The only way it’s going to stop is if you’re forced to stop,” said Smith. “At the end of the day, we want your resignation today.”
Attorney Furonda Brasfield, who stated the door were locked to the public meeting and was outside with dozens of protesters, was allowed in for public comments.
“This is ridiculous. This is shameful. Todd you need to resign,” said Brasfield. “When I heard that audio, I did not jump to conclusions but I was taken back. It was unbelievable but it was believable because we live in Arkansas County. This is not the first racist officer that’s been allowed to run rouge in this county.”
As an Arkansas County attorney based out of Stuttgart, Brasfield said she has witnessed numerous accounts of black men receiving punitive punishments for dope charges in the county verses their white counterparts.
“It doesn’t need to end with the inevitable. What needs to happen today, Mr. Wright, you need to resign today but beyond that, the policing in this county has to be totally changed,” said Brasfield who is pushing to get a county investigation by the FBI for the alleged corrupt system of law enforcement in Arkansas County. “If the head is poisonous, you have to look at the whole body.”
The statements did not bother Wright as he readdressed the public stating he was not going to resign.
“I’ve said things that I shouldn’t of said but as far as racism, I don’t condone it,” said Wright. “I got upset over a situation and I said things in the truck and I apologize.”
Spectators in the audience could be heard shouting, “just resign and get it over with” but Wright was adamant about his position causing the majority of the audience to leave in the middle of the meeting.
A window view outside the courtroom displayed protesting in the front lawn of the courthouse. Nick Clark was also spotted outside who was embraced by the protesters including Middlebrooks who said she was ready to talk but wants to be protected.
As the proceedings continued inside the courtroom, the people who stayed were the ones who got to the pit of Wright’s soul bringing him to a tearful sorrow.
A black mother with a white husband stated her daughter had spent the night at Wright’s home with his niece said she has witnessed the same racial antics.
“I’m praying you go get some help and stop using the devil as an excuse,” she said.
Bryan Belerford, a black veteran and comrade of Todd Wright told his friend he needed to put his pride aside and man up.
“We can’t have what’s going on outside (referencing the protesting) and going on all around the Unites States,” said Belerford. “You’re supposed to protect us. This town is peaceful. We don’t need that. We can’t have people coming down here from other places and destroying it. We don’t have much. Don’t let somebody from the outside take it.”
Belerford’s daughter, Destiny Brown, also addressed Todd. As a biracial young lady, she was overcome with emotion as she began to speak.
“I looked up to him as a father figure. I’m half black and you don’t understand how much you’ve hurt me,” she cried. “Do what’s right and quit hurting people. Please resign.”
One by one emotional comments swayed the energy in the courtroom. Wright’s body language changed from an unbothered slouch to an attentive and direct as his eyes began to well with tears.
Wright got up thanking Bryant, Destiny, Pastor Charles Banks and others who he said “opened his eyes”.
With a change of heart, Wright announced he would resign in a month to give him an opportunity to get his affairs in order but for former DeWitt Police Officer and business owner of Webb’s Sporting Goods, that wasn’t good enough.
“Todd, I’ve known you all my life. You need to take that badge and sat it on that table and walk out of here Todd,” said Bobby Webb who was viewing the live feed from another location but showed up inside, stating he needed to save the town. “You know I love you but you screwed up. Lay that badge down, lay that gun down and walk out of here.”
The words Webb spoke were the hardest he said he ever had to say to Wright but wanted him to get his life together. The 49-year-old said he has been a friend to Wright since they were 15 and the person he heard on that audio was not the Todd he knew.
Webb who has two bi-racial children himself said racism had to stop because this was not the 50s and 60s.
“This is not the Todd Wright we hired,” said Webb. “This is not the Todd Wright we put into office.”
Floored to tears Wright surrendered his badge and gun and embraced his friend.
A remorseful Wright announced his resignation effective immediately for the betterment of the community. He also stated he suffered from PTSD and pleaded for help because he could not afford it.
A motion was made to accept his resignation and grant him 30 days of pay for the sake of his children.
“I’m asking everyone to realize there is compassion that we have to show love,” said Mclemore. “I’m asking that you would with this motion grant Mr. Todd Wright 30 days on the payroll. He has children. They are going to suffer. They need to eat.”
The motion passed unanimously and friends said they would help Wright seek help.
Deputy Chief Randy Bateman will act as interim Sheriff until one is appointed or a special election is held to elect a new Arkansas County Sheriff.
That decision will be made in the next regularly scheduled Quorum Court meeting on September 8.