Damascus attorney responds to sanctions

Following sanctions issued by the 20th Judicial Prosecuting Attorney’s Office, Damascus filed an injunction for relief and declaratory judgment.

 

Prosecuting Attorney Cody Hiland ordered the city to cease patrol of highways, under guidelines that officers can no longer issue citations for traffic violations.

“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.

City Attorney Beau Wilcox said Damascus alderman and Mayor L.B. Pavatt anticipated sanctions of some fashion. However, the city “is disappointed in the severity and longevity of these sanctions and … continues to maintain the position that it adopted at the outset of this investigation.”

Wilcox argues the Arkansas Speed Trap Law is “dubious at best due to its vagueness, its lack of procedural due process, and its arbitrary nature.”

In his argument, Wilcox said Damascus authorities did not exceed the 30-percent threshold.

He said the city maintains it fell below statutory 30 percent revenue threshold, noting the fiscal data used by the Arkansas State Police, who conducted the investigation, and the prosecuting attorney’s office “encompassed tens of thousands of dollars in revenues that were not attributed to traffic offenses in any way.”

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.

Sanctions against the city do not bar Damascus police from responding to calls for services within the city. However, all traffic citations will be handled by the Faulkner County Sheriff’s Office, Van Buren County Sheriff’s Office and Arkansas State Police.

Hiland said Damascus is not prohibited from responding to stalled vehicles, wrecks or other traffic infractions, noting sanctions against the city only prohibited issuing traffic citations.

“I am not unmindful of the need for the City of Damascus to regulate traffic within its jurisdictional limits,” Hiland wrote in Wednesday’s sanction. “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.”

Wilcox said the city has signs clearly posted at its northern and southern entrance along Highway 65 to inform motorists of the 15 mile-an-hour drop.

“Certainly there will be cynical individuals who believe that the City of Damascus conducts its law enforcement activities for the sake of greater financial yield,” he wrote in his injunction filed in Faulkner County Circuit Court late Wednesday afternoon. “The reality is that Damascus is situated on a heavily trafficked highway where reasonable, plainly posted speed limits (45 miles per hour on Highway 65 within the city limits) are commonly and unfortunately disregarded by many motorists, which creates a public safety issue that the city is legally and morally bound to address with the resources it has at its disposal.”

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.

The injunction filed in Faulkner County Circuit Court also adds there is “no statutory basis” for misdemeanor arrests against Damascus officers should they issue traffic citations.

This note was made in response to Hiland’s sanctions. However, Arkansas Code § 12-8-404 dictates that “any violation of the sanction ordered under subdivision (a)(2)(A) of this section by any police officer shall constitute a Class A misdemeanor for each citation or summons issued or misdemeanor arrest made in violation of the prosecuting attorney’s order.”

 

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