Last year was described as an extraordinarily violent year in White County by 17th Judicial District Prosecuting Attorney Becky McCoy, but she said earlier this month that “this year is worse.”
“Last year, we filed for the whole year four capital murder cases. Those are ones that involve premeditation,” McCoy told the White County Quorum Court at its November meeting. “So far this year, I have filed five so far. They’re not done shooting at each other, they’re just not hitting each other very well.
“Last year, we filed two murder-firsts, one of those was a stabbing and another one was a young lady that ran over her sister’s boyfriend out there on Race Street and killed him. This year, we’ve only filed one murder-first and this year, we also filed two manslaughter cases in which the parents gave their minor child too much Benadryl and Dramamine and killed them, so these are the kind of cases that are coming through our office.”
She said crime is “not slowing down. We’re busy. Business is good; that’s not a good thing. Right now, drugs and thefts constitute approximately 75 percent of the felony cases that we file.”
In 2019, McCoy said her office filed 862 felony cases. In 2020, it filed 803, but she said obviously that was done because of COVID-19, “not that crime was down, but just the number of case files that were submitted to our office and that law enforcement agencies were able to completely investigate and submit to our office.”
Up to Nov. 16, McCoy said her office had filed 895 felony cases and had “probably another 40 waiting to go to Judge [Mark] Pate to sign off on. I figure by the end of the year, we will knocking on the thousand case number. That’s the most that I have ever seen. I’ve been here, not in the position but in White County at the prosecutor’s office since 1997, and so obviously crime is increasing.”
McCoy said the numbers her office has come from the White County Sheriff’s Office and all the other agencies in the county. “We are very fortunate that we can have a good working relationship with the various law enforcement agencies in White County.”
While felony cases are up, McCoy said involuntary commitments are down.
Last year, the prosecutor’s office filed 91 involuntary commitments. So far this year, she said her office has filed 52 involuntary commitments.
“Those are not drug-related commitments, those are psychiatric commitments,” she said. “You have to be homicidal, suicidal or gravely disabled and that has to be the result of a psychiatric issue, not a substance abuse issue.
“There’s a way to have somebody committed for a substance abuse issues; we can’t really do that in White County because we don’t have a place to send them, whereas psychiatric issues can go to Compass out there on Main Street.”
She said it seems like her office has filed more but most of the 52 commitments have been “probably within the last 60 days.”
Asset forfeitures is another thing McCoy said she handles in explaining her office’s duties to the justices of the peace.
“Those are not only drug-seized asset forfeitures but also forfeitures in civil cases. These can include firearms or felon in possession,” McCoy said. “We have seized vehicles that have been used in thefts. We have filed forfeiture actions for trailers that were used in a cattle theft, so that is a fairly wide category that my office handles.
“So far this year, we have filed 42 civil forfeitures and those are just the drug-related ones. We probably filed another five not drug-related ones. One of them I know we filed a forfeiture on was a young man that was driving around exposing himself to folks and he was caught and we seized his car. Last year, I filed 49 so I figure this year we are going to seize more than we did last year, and this is just White County, it doesn’t include Prairie County.”
She said her office has “ramped up their asset forfeitures quite a bit.”
Turning to misdemeanors, McCoy said it is really hard to put a number of them. “I’m thinking probably about 10,000 cases, that includes traffic citations as well as domestic batteries, harassment, all that stuff, violating no-contact orders ... . We usually handle about 10,000 of those every year through Searcy District Court. Beebe District Court is substantially less than that so maybe 2,000 or 3,000.”
The 17th Judicial District Prosecuting Attorney’s Office covers both White and Prairie counties. Norene Smith is McCoy’s chief deputy prosecutor and she has three full-time deputies plus a part-time deputy who handles some cases in White County in district court and in Prairie County. McCoy has office managers and another four administrative staff members in White County.
In Prairie County she also has a full-time deputy prosecutor and a “grant person” like White County has. She said her office also got money for a part-time deputy prosecutor for Prairie County from the state Legislature this past legislative session. “My staff has increased a little bit,” she said.
“Some prosecutors offices, everybody does everything all the time,” McCoy said but “in my office we kind of specialize in particular areas. We are all crossed trained that we can handle anybody’s caseload if we need to.”
When asked by White County Judge Michael Lincoln how much time she and her staff spend in court, McCoy said “we are in circuit court four full days for normal felony cases. We have probation revocations, which is an entire day in and of itself and that’s not including any special hearings. This just a minimum of five complete days in district court. We are pretty much in Searcy District Court pretty much every Tuesday and Thursday of every month and Beebe District Court once a month.”
She said Lynette Perez, one of her deputy prosecutors, handles the juvenile and adult drug court, generally three hours or so every Tuesday. Juvenile court for issues like school attendance and juvenile delinquencies takes place twice a month.
McCoy also discussed the recidivism (or reoffending) rate for those she has prosecuted, saying it is probably 6 of 10.
“There’s lots of folks who have convictions in other counties,” she said. “Like I have one I was working on the other day that has cases pending in Faulkner County and Randolph County. So frequently they will have active charges in several different counties.
“I was working on a case this evening, he has five open case files, gets arrested, bonds out, commits new offenses, bonds out and on and on and on and on.”
She added, “There are a lot of folks who know me on a first name basis.”