U.S., state tar­get Lit­tle Rock vi­o­lence

Gover­nor says parolees, liquor a fo­cus

Northwest Arkansas Democrat-Gazette - - FRONT PAGE - SCOTT CARROLL AND ERIC BESSON

Gov. Asa Hutchin­son on Thurs­day an­nounced that state, lo­cal and fed­eral au­thor­i­ties had formed an in­ves­tiga­tive force to stem vi­o­lent crime in Lit­tle Rock, five days after more than two dozen people were in­jured in a shootout at a night­club down­town.

He said the group will share in­for­ma­tion and re­sources to iden­tify and ar­rest vi­o­lent crim­i­nals in the city. The Lit­tle Rock Po­lice Depart­ment, the Pu­laski County sher­iff’s of­fice, the Arkansas State Po­lice, the FBI and the Arkansas Depart­ment of Com­mu­nity Cor­rec­tion are among the par­tic­i­pat­ing agen­cies.

Those agen­cies rou­tinely work to­gether on task forces and crim­i­nal in­ves­ti­ga­tions, but Hutchin­son said “a more fo­cused and co­or­di­nated ef­fort” is needed to ad­dress an in­crease in vi­o­lent crime in the state cap­i­tal.

Hutchin­son said that ef­fort also will in­clude height­ened su­per­vi­sion of parolees, par­tic­u­larly those con­victed of vi­o­lent of­fenses.

“The loom­ing cloud of vi­o­lence harms us all — not just Lit­tle Rock, but the en­tire state,” Hutchin­son said. “And when you think about Lit­tle Rock as our seat of govern­ment, as a cen­ter for tourism, med­i­cal ser­vices and eco­nomic de­vel­op­ment, my fo­cus as an eco­nomic de­vel­oper is to bring people to the state of Arkansas who want to live and work here and see our in­cred­i­ble qual­ity of life.

“And if Lit­tle Rock is not safe, then we can­not suc­ceed at our goals as a state.”

The shoot­ing Satur­day morn­ing at Power Ul­tra Lounge at 220 W. Sixth St. — blocks from Lit­tle Rock’s fi­nan­cial district, cul­tural sites and tourist at­trac­tions — left 25 people in­jured by gun­fire. Three others were hurt as scream­ing club­go­ers rushed for safety. The in­jured ranged in age from 16 to 35.

Po­lice quickly re­ported that the shoot­ing was not an act of ter­ror­ism but a dis­pute be­tween people at­tend­ing a per­for­mance by Mem­phis rap­per Ricky Hamp­ton. The depart­ment said it’s in­ves­ti­gat­ing whether feud­ing Lit­tle Rock gangs, which po­lice have con­nected to nu­mer­ous other re­cent crimes in the city, were in­volved in the shoot­ing.

Po­lice on Thurs­day had made no ar­rests in the case and no war­rants had been is­sued, ac­cord­ing to a depart­ment spokesman.

As­sis­tant Chief Wayne Bew­ley said at a news con­fer­ence Thurs­day that an in­ves­ti­ga­tion is on­go­ing.

“We feel that we are do­ing a very good job in mak­ing progress in our in­ves­ti­ga­tion,” he said.

The night­club shoot­ing is the blood­i­est case in a surge of vi­o­lent crime in Lit­tle Rock.

There had been 1,386 in­ci­dents of vi­o­lent crime — homi­cide, rob­bery, rape and ag­gra­vated as­sault — this year in the city as of June 26, up 24 per­cent from what po­lice re­ported through the same date in 2016, ac­cord­ing to pre­lim­i­nary data.

City Man­ager Bruce Moore told Lit­tle Rock Mayor Mark Stodola and city di­rec­tors Sun­day that “the per­former from Mem­phis was in­volved in a feud with an­other per­former and was the shooter” at Power Ul­tra Lounge, ac­cord­ing to an email ob­tained by the Arkansas Demo­crat-Gazette.

Moore re­leased the email un­der the state Free­dom of In­for­ma­tion Act.

It was un­clear Thurs­day whether the in­for­ma­tion in Moore’s email was ac­cu­rate. Lit­tle Rock po­lice said Hamp­ton, whose stage name is Fi­nese 2Tymes, is a “per­son of in­ter­est” in the shoot­ing. The depart­ment has not called Hamp­ton a sus­pect.

Wit­ness ac­counts of the shoot­ing vary. A man who said he was sit­ting next to the stage when Hamp­ton was per­form­ing said the gun­fire came from the crowd. Others said some­one on the stage was shoot­ing.

Lit­tle Rock Po­lice Chief Ken­ton Buck­ner, in a phone call Thurs­day, de­clined to com­ment on Moore’s email.

“I’m not fa­mil­iar with the email, nor have I seen the email,” Buck­ner said. “As I stated to the [city Board of Di­rec­tors] the other night, the Po­lice Depart­ment does not pub­licly dis­cuss ac­tive and on­go­ing in­ves­ti­ga­tions.”

Pu­laski County Pros­e­cut­ing At­tor­ney Larry Je­g­ley also de­clined to dis­cuss the email.

“I’m sorry any­body’s com­ment­ing on any­thing that has to do with an open in­ves­ti­ga­tion at this point,” Je­g­ley said. “I’ll have to with­hold any com­ment on that.”

Moore, who was ap­pointed city man­ager in 2002, said in an in­ter­view that he was try­ing to keep elected of­fi­cials in­formed. He sent the email with “Con­fi­den­tial Up­date” in the sub­ject line and asked that re­cip­i­ents “not share this de­tailed in­for­ma­tion.”

“Again, this was an evolv­ing sit­u­a­tion,” Moore said. “I was also very clear that I didn’t want to in­ter­fere with the in­ves­ti­ga­tion.”

Moore said wit­nesses who were at the Power Ul­tra Lounge called him di­rectly to re­port the in­for­ma­tion. He said it did not come from the Po­lice Depart­ment.

“There has been mul­ti­ple re­ports that there were people fir­ing from the stage,” Moore said. “Who that was, we’re still try­ing to fig­ure out.”

Stodola on Thurs­day con­firmed that he re­ceived the email but said he has not “cor­rob­o­rated” the in­for­ma­tion. The mayor said he has not spo­ken to any wit­nesses.

“I’m let­ting the po­lice do their job,” Stodola, a for­mer pros­e­cut­ing at­tor­ney, said. “I have not got­ten any up­date from them other than the in­ves­ti­ga­tion is on­go­ing, it’s very ac­tive and they’re work­ing a lot of dif­fer­ent leads.“

Moore sent the email at 9:58 a.m. Sun­day, after fed­eral au­thor­i­ties ar­rested Hamp­ton in Alabama in an un­re­lated case. Hamp­ton, 25, is ac­cused of shoot­ing a woman in a traf­fic dis­pute out­side a night­club in For­rest City in the early hours of June 25. He faces charges of ag­gra­vated as­sault and a fed­eral charge of be­ing a felon in pos­ses­sion of a firearm.

An at­tor­ney had not been lined up to rep­re­sent Hamp­ton in the fed­eral case as of Thurs­day, ac­cord­ing to the U.S. East­ern District of Arkansas’ clerk’s of­fice.

Au­thor­i­ties also ar­rested Ken­trell Gwynn, 25, ac­cord­ing to re­ports. Moore, in his email Sun­day, said Hamp­ton’s “body­guard” also had been ar­rested in Birm­ing­ham.

Hamp­ton was be­ing held Thurs­day evening in the Jef­fer­son County jail in Birm­ing­ham as a “fugi­tive from jus­tice,” and no bail had been set, ac­cord­ing to the on­line in­mate ros­ter. He is sched­uled to ap­pear in an Alabama district court at 9 a.m. to­day, ac­cord­ing to an on­line docket.

Hutchin­son said at a news con­fer­ence Thurs­day that the in­ter­a­gency group work­ing to fight vi­o­lent crime in Lit­tle Rock will work out of one build­ing.

“There has not been agents and of­fi­cers from each of the agen­cies that are co-lo­cated in one lo­ca­tion, work­ing side by side in a tar­geted fash­ion,” he said. “Any­one in law en­force­ment will tell you there’s no sub­sti­tute for that in­gre­di­ent.”

Hutchin­son, a for­mer U.S. at­tor­ney, served as an un­der­sec­re­tary for the U.S. Depart­ment of Home­land Se­cu­rity and as di­rec­tor of the fed­eral Drug En­force­ment Ad­min­is­tra­tion un­der Pres­i­dent Ge­orge W. Bush.

No bud­get had been set for the group, but Hutchin­son said the group’s ex­penses will be mon­i­tored. Hutchin­son said the state’s Al­co­holic Bev­er­age Con­trol Di­vi­sion will en­force clos­ing times and mon­i­tor busi­nesses more closely for bev­er­age vi­o­la­tions be­gin­ning this week in Pu­laski County.

Pu­laski County Sher­iff Doc Hol­la­day said the state’s largest jail will hold those ar­rested in the joint crime-fight­ing ini­tia­tive.

The jail, which is built to hold 1,210 in­mates, has strug­gled with crowd­ing in re­cent years and has closed its doors to all but the most se­ri­ous of­fend­ers on sev­eral oc­ca­sions. It con­tin­ues to re­lease in­mates ac­cused of low-level of­fenses be­fore their court dates to con­trol the in­mate pop­u­la­tion.

“I want to as­sure you that the jail will be uti­lized to meet the needs of this task force, to meet the needs of the cit­i­zens of Pu­laski County and all of law en­force­ment,” Hol­la­day said.

The FBI field of­fice in Lit­tle Rock re­ferred ques­tions on the night­club shoot­ing to the Lit­tle Rock Po­lice Depart­ment, which is lead­ing the in­ves­ti­ga­tion.

Spe­cial Agent in Charge Diane Upchurch said the agency stands ready to help.

“I think we’ve all seen enough vi­o­lent crime in this city,” she said.

Lit­tle Rock po­lice ad­dressed the night­club shoot­ing Thurs­day evening at Chat with the Chief, one of its an­nual se­ries of pub­lic fo­rums. About 60 people at­tended the dis­cus­sion at Hall High School.

One of those people, Stacey Allen, said he’s a for­mer gang mem­ber who works with anti-vi­o­lence pro­grams in Lit­tle Rock. He called on other at­ten­dees to join their ef­forts.

“It starts in your home,” Allen said. “It starts with you.”

Arkansas Demo­crat-Gazette/MITCHELL PE MASILUN

“The loom­ing cloud of vi­o­lence harms us all — not just Lit­tle Rock, but the en­tire state,” Gov. Asa Hutchin­son said Thurs­day in an­nounc­ing a new anti-crime in­ves­tiga­tive group.

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