Police State: Did LRPD Overplay Hand in Arresting Surgeon General Joe Thompson?

Arkansas Surgeon General Joe Thompson

Arkansas Surgeon General Joe Thompson

I have policy disagreements with our state’s surgeon general, Joe Thompson, but that is unrelated to yesterday’s news of his arrest by the Little Rock Police Department. What is interesting about the arrest is that Thompson appears innocent of what he was arrested for.

Of course, people don’t just get arrested for no reason. Thompson was arrested Saturday night because he was argumentative, perhaps because he was drinking, and probably because he was obnoxious.

But drinking and being argumentative and even being obnoxious are not crimes; if they were, some of my best friends would be serving life sentences. It’s not that Thompson was arrested for no reason – it’s that he was arrested for a bad reason.

How it went down

To make a long story short, on Saturday night Thompson approached a private citizen – a security guard for Stephens Inc.– who was in front of Thompson’s house; Thompson asked what the guard was doing there. (Apparently, the guard has a practice of driving around town and checking on the homes of his employers.)

The Arkansas Times reported that Thompson “accosted” the guard, which I think means Thompson asked a question that the guard didn’t like. Things escalated, according to the police report the Times reproduced, and before long the guard called the police. Police officers came to Thompson’s home and started asking him questions about what had happened earlier that evening.

According to the police report, Thompson complained about the security guard’s presence in a less than sober manner, then yelled at the officers, and finally told them he didn’t want to talk anymore. Officer Johannes of the LRPD told Thompson he’d have to give answers to some questions about his (Thompson’s) identity before he would be permitted to end the conversation and go inside his house. Thompson disagreed, saying he wouldn’t give the police anything, at which point the police officer arrested him, in part (according to the police report) because Thompson refused to answer questions.

DOC vs. DOT

The problem here is that, in Arkansas, the police can’t do that. Police aren’t allowed to arrest citizens here just because citizens don’t want to talk to them or give them ID information. (Of course, police are allowed to arrest citizens for loitering in a public place, and a refusal to supply ID information can give grounds for arrest for loitering, but it is impossible to loiter on your own property, which is where Thompson was.)

I would never advise anyone to do what Thompson did; in reality, he may have been arrested on a DOC charge (Disrespect Of Cop). Disrespecting cops is not technically illegal, but as Thompson’s experience proves, it can be hazardous to your liberty.

Regrettably, when police mishandle DOC incidents, this can lead to DOT (Disrespect of Taxpayers) – because, if Thompson wants another fight, he would have a decent shot at winning a civil suit for false arrest against the City of Little Rock, for which you and I might end up paying the tab.

This means that, from a real-world perspective, it doesn’t matter that much what Thompson’s actual criminal conduct was. The City of Little Rock should want these charges to go away, because it doesn’t want to be on the wrong end of a civil suit. Thompson wants these charges to go away, because he likes the job he has and doesn’t want any involvement with civil or criminal proceedings. Prediction: these charges are going to go away.

If anybody involved had been a bit more careful, this whole thing would never have reached this stage. If Thompson had been more judicious (or, more precisely, less obnoxious), the police would never have been summoned. If Officer Johannes had decided to cite (or even arrest) Thompson just for disorderly conduct, that action would have been relatively uncontroversial.

But Officer Johannes’s report says he arrested Thompson for his “hostile demeanor” and “for refusal to comply with our lawful orders” – that is, for Thompson’s refusal to continue talking with Officer Johannes, because Thompson just wanted to go inside and end the conversation – and that is an arrest that I suspect would be hard to defend as a civil matter.

Officer Johannes’s police report will make it tricky to demonstrate probable cause in civil court for Thompson’s arrest, because it provides support for an alternate narrative: the report makes it look like Thompson was arrested because he didn’t comply with an illegal order.

In short, from the legal perspective of someone who has to defend the City of Little Rock, the problem with Officer Johannes’s report is that it may simply be too honest. I imagine there are a couple of attorneys and law enforcement bureaucrats who are, at this very moment, engineering things so that these charges will fade away, which is what everybody involved in this matter likely wants.

And in the unlikely event that Thompson loses his job over this, he has a lucrative career ahead: as a litigant.

State Surgeon General Joe Thompson Arrested | Arkansas Times

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  1. [...] General Arrest Sheds New Light on Case April 9, 2012 David Kinkade Leave a Comment Last week I posted about Surgeon General Joe Thompson’s arrest by Little Rock police officers, suggesting that the Thompson was arrested essentially because he [...]

  2. [...] Arkansas Institute/The Arkansas Project has shed some new light on the circumstances surrounding the arrest of Arkansas’ Surgeon General Joe Thompson a couple weeks [...]

  3. [...] Arkansas Institute President Dan Greenberg initially wrote that Thompson did not appear to be guilty of what he was arrested for, but that he (Thompson) had [...]