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Beebe Councilman-elect David Pruitt ruled ineligible to hold office by Arkansas Supreme Court

Beebe Councilman-elect David Pruitt said Friday that he’s “a little heartbroken” that the Arkansas Supreme Court upheld a White County Circuit Court ruling that he “is ineligible to hold the public office of alderman” because of a 2016 misdemeanor election laws violation.

Justice Shawn A. Womack issued the majority opinion Thursday after Pruitt had appealed Circuit Judge Craig Hannah’s decision Oct. 30, the Friday before the Nov. 3 general election.

Although Hannah ruled in favor of the petition against Pruitt’s eligibility by plaintiffs that included incumbent Linda Anthony, Pruitt’s Ward 1, Position 2 opponent, he also had ruled that the votes for Pruitt in the election should count in case of an appeal. Pruitt received 1,546 votes (59.69 percent) to Anthony’s 1,044 (40.31).

Anthony had been joined in the petition against Pruitt by fellow Council members Lee McLane, Derrek Goff and Tracy Lightfoot and Beebe Mayor Mike Roberson. They had asked that Pruitt be ruled ineligible and removed from the ballot because he pleaded guilty before then-White County Circuit Judge Robert Edwards to a misdemeanor violation for voting twice in the 2016 primaries.

Pruitt, who was a Beebe councilman at the time, paid a fine and said he was told that his record would be expunged, allowing him to run for public office again.

However, Womack wrote, “This court has concluded that the framers of the Arkansas Constitution intended for an ‘infamous crime’ ... to include crimes involving elements of deceit and dishonesty. ... Additionally, infamous crimes are those that impugn the integrity of the office and directly impact the person’s ability to serve as an elected official.”

“Arkansas Code Annotated section 7-1-103 lists misdemeanors for election-related offenses. Pruitt pled guilty to subsection (a)(19(A), which states, ‘No person shall vote knowing himself or herself not entitled to vote.’”

Concerning sealing Pruitt’s record, Womack wrote that “the General Assembly reserved the authority to limit the effect of sealing in certain circumstances. With the inclusion of subsection (b)(2)(A), the General Assembly deliberately chose to exclude from public office all persons found guilty of election-related misdemeanors, regardless of whether the record is later sealed.”

Justice Rhonda K. Wood concurred without opinion.

After the Supreme Court’s decision, Pruitt said he just wanted to do what’s right for the city and the citizens of Beebe.

“Here’s the bottom line, the people overwhelmingly voted for me through all the negative ads, the articles, the lawsuit, and the people still stood with me. I am thankful for that,” Pruitt said. “I don’t know what the next step is, but I’m no quitter. I never give up. I just have to pray about it and see where God is going to lead me because I really felt led to run for the City Council.”

Pruitt called the Supreme Court decision “their opinion of how they read the law.”

“I am not talking bad about the Supreme Court. They all have their own opinion,” he said. “I know there’s three more; three of the justices might have went another way, their opinion would have been different, but that’s OK,” he said. “I am a little heartbroken, but I’m OK.

“Like I say, I’m no quitter. I don’t give up on anything, especially if I feel I need to do something. All I wanted to be was a servant for our city and our citizens and put our city in the right direction.”

He said he believes “the citizens served notice” to the council because “they voted out every incumbent.”

He said he believes that Anthony will now retain her position after her term ends in December, but “it’s never over ’til it’s over. I don’t know what my next avenue is maybe a pardon, I don’t know. I’m just praying for our city and our leadership even though they all came against me.”

Pruitt called the last-minute petition against him “pretty sneaky.”

“I am really saddened that Judge Hannah wouldn’t of called them out on it, that they used him and his court to do this four days before the election,” he said.

As far as whether Anthony will retain her position in January despite losing the election, Robertson said he is seeking guidance from Beebe City Attorney Randy Grice and expects a response in the coming week.

“We have talked to him and he is drafting a response,” Robertson said.

According to White County Election Commission Chairman Robert Allen, who certified the election last week and said Pruitt was “duly elected” since he had not receive a court order or heard from the Arkansas Supreme Court, said that what normally happens when there is a vacancy on a council “is that you either appoint a vacancy or you have a special election.”

Anthony told The Daily Citizen on Friday that she has not really heard anything so far concerning her position, but responded to social media criticism about petitioning the court.

“My thing is that people are on the website trying to bash and say the government is corrupt,” Anthony said, “but my thing is that one of the newspapers started to say that he [Pruitt] was ineligible to run during the election, so after so many times of that being in there, I checked into it and that’s what happened.

“Judge Hannah made the ruling that he was ineligible to run, so therefore if he [Pruitt] didn’t know that he wasn’t supposed to be eligible to run, that was not my fault and I didn’t have any other opposition, so as far as my concern that was his decision. If people are telling you, you are ineligible to run, I think it is wise to check into it ... .”

Anthony said she doesn’t feel that she should be seen as the “bad guy here,” and that the position should still be hers since Pruitt wasn’t eligible.

“ ... And if there was another person on the ballot, then I say, ‘Yeah, we should decide that way,’ but as far as I’m concerned, I won because he was ruled ineligible by Judge Hannah” Then, after the votes were allowed to be counted to let Pruitt appeal, “the state Supreme Court felt the same way as Judge Hannah, so as far as I’m concerned I wouldn’t have had any opposition, so that would still be my place, it would be my position.”

Lana Fraser, Pruitt’s lead attorney, told The Daily Citizen after the opinion was issued that “it’s a sad day for Beebe citizens who elected Mr. Pruitt to govern them. They are the ones whose voices were silenced by this opinion.”

“City Council members and the mayor of Beebe used a last-minute legal maneuver to eliminate the competition and guarantee their voice was the only one that was heard,” Fraser said. “In doing so, they usurped the election process and all that it entails. It is undoubtedly a great disappointment for all of us who believe in David Pruitt, a true public servant who wanted nothing more that to serve the city he lives and works in.

“On election day, Mr. Pruitt was working at his tire business, just as he does every day, awaiting voters to speak and they did so, loudly. Mr. Pruitt won the election by a landslide.”

Fraser said she feels that a special election should be held to fill the position because “clearly, Linda Anthony is not the person the citizens of Beebe want to govern them and she was not elected to office.”

“David Pruitt has now been disqualified by judicial decision. Rather than Ms. Anthony being appointed by default, the best remedy for this situation is to hold a special election, then perhaps the citizens of Beebe will be allowed to participate in the democratic election process they have been denied,” she said. “We expect David Pruitt will continue to be a vital leader in the city of Beebe as he has been for many years.”


Armon Turner works on construction of this year’s Living Nativity at Searcy First Assembly of God at 101 Benton St. Turner said he usually works lighting and on the parking lot during the annual event that will be held Dec. 4-6 and 11-13. Friday hours will be from 6:30-9:30 p.m. Saturday hours are from 5:30-9:30 p.m. and Sunday hours are from 5:30-8:30 p.m. A limited number of cast members are taking part this year because of COVID-19 concerns.


Searcy optometrist Cecil Watts saws wood as part of the construction work on the living nativity set. Watts has been a member of the church since 1982 and said working on the project is a labor of love for him.


News
Rose Bud mourns loss of assistant fire chief, served community for over 20 years

The city of Rose Bud is mourning the loss of someone “who truly had a servant’s heart,” according to Mayor Shawn Gorham.

Assistant Fire Chief Jonathan “Harry” Hussman served as a firefighter on the Rose Bud Volunteer Fire Department for over 20 years. Hussman died Wednesday at age 41 in Little Rock.

“I saw him drop what he was doing time and time again as we grew up and over the years to help out complete strangers,” Gorham said.

Gorham gave an example of how committed Hussman was to Rose Bud. “During Rose Bud’s first Summerfest, I had given the fire department a budget to spend on the fireworks. He said, ‘We need more, we want to make this big.’ He then opened up his wallet and put $500 of his own money into the pot to showcase the event.”

Hussman’s charity did not end with what he did for Summerfest, Gorham said. “He volunteered for everything that was going on in town, from the cleanup to helping chalk the fields at the ballpark complex during tournaments. He would have given the shirt off his back to help anyone who needed it. We lost a good man, but he left us with a lifetime of memories.

Gorham said Hussman was a fine example of “how we should love our neighbor as ourselves.” He is asking that everyone keep “Harry’s” family and the Rose Bud community in their prayers as they go through these difficult days.”

After its Veterans Day ceremony on Nov. 7, Rose Bud held a chili benefit dinner and auction for Hussman.

“The Hussmans were the ones who started the fire department [in Rose Bud],” said Joey Smith, owner/operator of SNS Security in Searcy and a close friend of Hussman’s who worked with him as a Rose Bud firefighter. “Harry’s grandfather actually started it and then there were three sons, Terry, David and I think Alan was on there and they all were the ones that were basically firemen when I got on the fire department in ‘89.

“Terry Hussman was the fire chief. Tommy was the brother and Tommy’s son is Jonathan, and so when he was a kid in school he would come up there with his dad. He really wasn’t part of the fire department at that point but he was always around and after he got old enough where he could be on the department, he started doing stuff and responding and just progressed from that point.”

Smith said when his father-in-law died, he started CPR and called Hussman on the phone and said, “’It’s Ray, I need you right now.’ So, he was on the radio telling everybody where to go and who it was and to go to my house; my in-laws lived next door to me.”

“He has always been around,” Smith said. “We hunted together, have done some fishing and played cards together. I have known him all these years. He used to work at the shop where a buddy of mine had a fabrication shop there. He was just always the guy to be around to help do anything, and you could not ask for a better guy.”

Smith said Hussman spent his life doing “fire department stuff” and “every call that he could make, he would go.”

A funeral service for Hussman is being held Saturday at 2 p.m. at the Rose Bud baseball fields.


News
Memory of Malik Drummond 'lives on' on sixth anniversary of 2-year-old's murder

Nancy Covington puts up a banner every year on the front fence of her residence on Morris School Road to remember her grandson, Malik Drummond, who in the fall of 2014 was reported missing from an apartment at 710 W. Park Ave., sparking a massive search before it was later found that the 2-year-old had been killed by his father.

Friday marked the sixth anniversary of Malik’s death. The banner has a picture of him and his twin sister, Aryanna, who is 8 years old and now lives in Texas.

“We all miss him,” Covington said. “There is not a memory that goes by that we don’t miss him. The people that were involved should have got more than what they got. The father was there but he wasn’t there.”

Malik being reported missing had people joining in the search within a matter of 15 to 30 minutes of being notified about 5:45 p.m on Nov. 23, 2014, said then-Searcy Assistant Police Chief Steve Taylor. “Not only members of the police department but with people in the neighborhood. Over the next few days, we had well over 1,000 volunteers show up every day.”

The 2-year-old was 3 feet tall, 40 pounds and had brown eyes and brown hair. An Amber Alert was set into the motion the night of his disappearance.

Covington noted the community coming together for Malik. “They were wonderful. I was incarcerated when he came up missing. Everybody was supportive that was there for me and Tanya [Covington’s daughter].”

Covington said the first couple years after Malik’s death, people would reach out to her but not so much in the last four years. “My husband now tells a lot of people that I am Malik’s grandmother and they give me their sympathies and everything. Malik was funny and he smiled all the time. He was just a wonderful baby.”

Malik’s father, Jeffrey Leroy Clifton, then 43, of Searcy pleaded no contest May 27, 2016, to second-degree murder, a class A felony, and abuse of a corpse, a class C felony, and was given 40 years to be served consecutively in the Arkansas Department of Correction. The Daily Citizen reported in June 2016 that the murder charge was reduced from capital murder, a class Y felony, in a negotiated plea deal. Clifton, a 6-7 former Arkansas State University basketball player, was arrested just before midnight Dec. 1, 2015. He is being held in the Cummins Unit in Grady,

Also in the case, Lesley Sue Marcotte pleaded guilty before now retired White County Circuit Judge Robert Edwards to a charge of hindering apprehension or prosecution, a class B felony, and was sentenced to 10 years in the Arkansas Department of Correction. Marcotte was released after completing the ADC’s 105-day boot camp after serving four months of her sentence. The rest of her sentence is being served under supervised parole, 17th Judicial District Prosecuting Attorney Becky McCoy said.

The department  notified McCoy about Marcotte’s release a day after it had released her. Normally, a defendant would serve at least 20 months of a 120-month sentence, McCoy said.

Marcotte and Clifton had reported Nov. 24, 2014, that Malik had gone missing from their apartment. She “reported that the child had walked out of the house and virtually disappeared,” McCoy said. “An extensive search for the child was conducted including civilians, local, state and federal law enforcement officers, as well as the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children.”

Later, McCoy said Marcotte gave a statement admitting that she knew in 2014 that Malik was dead and knowingly participated in the cover-up.

Throughout the investigation, numerous inconsistencies had emerged regarding Malik’s disappearance. In her new statement, Marcotte reportedly told investigators that Clifton had beaten Malik on Nov. 20, 2014, and that the toddler had died as a result of his injuries, which included “extensive bruising.”

In her statement, she reportedly said Clifton had kept Malik’s body in his truck until the early morning of Nov. 23, even taking it with him to work, before borrowing a sport utility vehicle from his brother to take the body and dispose of it. According to an affidavit, a cadaver dog had alerted police to the vehicle’s interior in 2014.

It was also reported that in the three days between when Malik died and when they reported him missing, Clifton and Marcotte attempted to devise a plan that would frame Malik’s biological mother for his disappearance, according to the affidavit .

Covington said Malik’s body was found next to an old liquor store in Jackson County.

“He was buried. They buried him and I guess over the years the wolves and the dogs dug him up,” Covington said. “I don know why he did it. I don’t even know why he put him in the Jeep and rode around town. I just don’t know why he didn’t take him to the hospital.”

She just doesn’t want Malik and what happened to him to be forgotten.

“All these kids that get murdered or whatever, taken on TV, they go back and remember them, but they don’t remember Malik,” Covington said. “On the news, they remember all these kids that got murdered and disappeared. It’s like he just vanished. They don’t remember. They don’t have no knowledge of Malik.”

That’s one reason she has the poster of Malik and Aryana “from when he passed away, his revival and everything. I put it out on our fence in our fenced in yard on their birthday.”

She said her family also prays a lot at the kitchen table about Malik and noted the bench donated by the Searcy Police Department in Malik’s honor at Spring Park. ‘The community will know that Malik will be remembered forever.”

Officers who were with the department when Malik disappeared certainly haven’t forgotten.

“Six years ago, the Searcy Police Department began one of the most emotionally taxing investigations that many of us had experienced to that point in our careers,” Maj. Brian Wyatt said Friday. “When Malik was reported missing, not a one of us knew him or had ever had the opportunity to meet him. In the beginning moments of the investigation, we only knew his name.

“However, over the following 12 months, we came to know Malik and love him as if he was our own. The main priority was to bring Malik home. Thirteen months later, we succeeded in this goal, but unfortunately, it was not the way we had wished and prayed for.”

What the search for Malik showed, Wyatt said, is “how a community can come together, put aside differences and work side by side in a time of tragedy. Malik’s time on this earth was short, but he made a difference in all of our lives.

“Malik’s memory lives on in all of us that were involved in the investigation. We did not know him until he was already gone, but the impact he left on each of us will carry on throughout our lives and careers.”

McCoy called Malik’s case “unique, in that it involved the entire community of Searcy.”

“Law enforcements agencies from jurisdictions from across the state came in and assisted in searching the river out at Riverside Park and various other places they had received information that they might be able to find him. None of that was accurate,” McCoy said. “It was quite amazing and touching to see the compassion that the community showed.

“That was the first case that I had prosecuted where a child was a victim of domestic violence and died. I have been a deputy prosecutor when we have had other types of cases not quite that egregious – homicide cases where the victims were children – but that was the first one I prosecuted myself.”

“... That little boy touched this community. it was a good year before we got good information on who all was involved. His dad was the one who ultimately told law enforcement where he put the body, so that is how they found him.”

Information for this article was contributed by former staff writer Dana Guthrie.


News
Two White County men charged in Bald Knob area aggravated residential burglary

Strickland

Priddy

Jackson

Two White County men who were reportedly armed with body armor, a gun, knives and “a large metal hatchet” are facing aggravated residential burglary charges regarding a break-in at a Bald Knob area residence in September.

Warrants for Kyle Douglas Strickland, 36, of Bald Knob and Branden Matthew Priddy, 28, of Searcy were issued earlier this month at the request of the 17th Judicial District Prosecuting Attorney’s Office. In addition to the class Y felony aggravated residential burglary charge, Strickland also has been charged with possession of firearms by certain persons, a class B felony; criminal possession of body armor, a class D felony; and misdemeanor theft of property. Priddy was charged with the same class Y felony, misdemeanor theft of property and misdemeanor carrying a weapon.

In a separate case, Priddy has been charged with class C felony theft by receiving after a stolen motorcycle he was riding was involved in an accident Sept. 29. He was not in custody Friday afternoon, but Strickland remained in the White County Detention Center. Both are set for plea and arraignment in White County Circuit Court on Dec. 1.

According to the affidavit written by White County Sheriff’s Office Detective Derek S. Warren, Deputy Andrew Holloway was headed to a “burglary in progress” on U.S. Highway 167 N. on Sept. 17 when he saw a black Ford Escape fleeing the area.

While attempting to turn onto Iris Lane, the driver of the vehicle lost control and struck a tree. The driver and passenger reportedly attempted to flee on foot but were caught “shortly after” and identified as Strickland and Priddy.

Strickland had a .40-caliber pistol holster near him, and the pistol and a black mask were found in the vehicle, according to Warren, along with “several Milwaukee Drill charges, a blanket and a blue and black backpack.” When Strickland was searched, knives and body armor reportedly were found on him. The hatchet was reportedly found on Priddy.

The owner of the residence, who was not home during the burglary, told Warren that “his door had been kicked in and the camera cords on his camera had been cut.” What he reported missing also matched the items found in the Ford Escape.

A witness reportedly said that the two men had parked in her driveway and walked to the other property while wearing masks. Strickland was reportedly holding a gun. She said they returned “shortly after carrying several items,” Warren wrote.

The witness reportedly identified Strickland in a photo lineup. Strickland, who was convicted of aggravated residential burglary in 2013, reportedly admitted to going to the residence with Priddy “armed with a handgun, a mask and body armor.” The total amount of the September theft was $155, according to Warren.

In a separate case, a warrant was issued earlier this month for Johnathan James Jackson, 23, of Beebe related to several vehicle break-ins in Beebe.

Jackson is charged with four counts of class D felony breaking and entering, class D felony theft of property (firearm) and misdemeanor theft of property. He also is set to appear in White County Circuit Court for plea and arraignment Dec. 1 at 9 a.m.

The break-ins were reported Aug. 7 “in the area of South Fir Street,” Beebe Police Department Capt. Steven Hall wrote in the affidavit, with four of the incidents involving unlocked vehicles. The suspect also reportedly “had rummaged around” a resident’s carport and opened a cabinet’s doors.

Items were stolen from three of the vehicles, including a Glock 43 handgun, a razor knife and wallet with a driver’s license, Social Security card and several bank/credit cards.

Home security cameras recorded three suspects, which were shared on social media and led to Jackson, along with a juvenile female and male, being identified, Hall wrote.

The juveniles reportedly were found at Jackson’s “last-known residence,” and Beebe officiers were told that he “had left town.” The juveniles reportedly admitted to their involvement and said that Jackson “drove them to the area” and participated in the break-ins. “Some of the stolen property was recovered from their residence,” Hall wrote.

Jackson was not in custody Friday afternoon.