Prosecutor: Damascus cannot issue tickets, patrol highways

After finding Damascus in violation of the state’s speed trap laws, Prosecuting Attorney Cody Hiland has now ordered the city to cease patrol of all highways.

 

“The City of Damascus is hereby ordered to cease patrolling all affected highways within the jurisdictional limits of the city,” Hiland wrote in a sanction against the city Wednesday.

Hiland found in February the city was, in fact, in violation of the Arkansas speed trap statute because the city’s revenues from fines exceeded 30 percent of the city’s expenditures for each of the two previous years.

Thirty percent of revenues is one of the two ways a city can be deemed a speed trap, per the statute. A city can also be found at fault if more than 50 percent of its tickets are for violations of less than 10 mph over the speed limit. Damascus was not in violation of the 10 mph term.

The sanction does not bar Damascus police from responding to calls for services within the city. However, any and all traffic infractions will be handled by the Faulkner County Sheriff’s Office, Van Buren County Sheriff’s Office and Arkansas State Police.

“I am not unmindful of the need for the City of Damascus to regulate traffic within its jurisdictional limits,” Hiland wrote. “The residents of the city should not be forced to endure a lack of public safety service as a result of the police department having improperly abused its police power.”

Faulkner County Chief Deputy Matt Rice said deputies have been advised of the Damascus’ sanction and will run radar and patrol city streets.

“We will try our best to be up there and be seen in the area,” he said. “We will handle all traffic violations in Damascus. State police have also been advised.”

In finding Damascus police were “abusing police power,” Hiland ruled that any officer found in violation of the sanction will be issued a Class A misdemeanor for each citation or summons issued, which could also constitute a misdemeanor arrest.

“This Order does not apply to the City of Damascus responding to citizen calls for assistance in the enforcement of the state or local law,” Hiland wrote. “It only applies to the enforcement of traffic violations.”

Damascus City Attorney Beau Wilcox said the city disagrees with Hiland’s ruling and plans to “vigorously contest” sanctions imposed against the city “due to the implications they would have on the safety of the community and motorists generally.”

The city council voted Tuesday night to allow Wilcox “to immediately seek judicial intervention in the matter,” which Wilcox said he is “diligently pursuing today [Wednesday] and will hopefully obtain.”

No other comment will be made on the city’s behalf through Wilcox or any other city official until the case is filed in Faulkner County Circuit Court, Wilcox said. From there, more details regarding the case from the city’s standpoint will be released.

Damascus has a unique setting in that it has a five-lane highway running north-south through it, a major artery used by 20,000 cars a day during peak travel periods, according to state figures.

The approximately 2.1-mile stretch through the town, marked 45 mph, is relatively straight, with no stop lights or speed control mechanisms, but has 11 intersecting streets as well as business driveways. The speed limit is 60 mph both north and south of Damascus.

Wilcox has argued in the past that with no traffic lights to regulate traffic, police force is “the only thing controlling traffic flow in Damascus.”

The order issued against Damascus states the sanction will remain in place “through the completion of the current prosecutor’s term of office.”


Log Cabin Democrat Correspondant Alex Kienlen contributed to this article.


 

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