Deputy Terminated After Internal Investigation
On May 4, 2015, the Faulkner County Sheriff's Office (FCSO) initiated a traffic stop on a stolen vehicle. Christopher Cummings (Cummings) a known violent, convicted felon was believed to be in the vehicle which ultimately fled from the deputies. The driver, Harvey Martin (Martin) and passenger, Cummings led deputies on a high speed pursuit that reached speeds of approximately 125 MPH on the interstate from Mayflower to Conway while Cummings fired numerous rounds from a 9mm pistol toward the deputies pursuing him striking marked FCSO patrol vehicles four times. The pursuit ended at the intersection of Clifton St. and Hairston St in the City of Conway.
Cummings was apprehended after a brief struggle approximately 75 yards from the vehicle still in possession of the 9mm pistol. Martin did not respond to verbal commands from the deputies to exit the vehicle and was forcibly removed. A struggle ensued to restrain Martin and place him in handcuffs. Both suspects were taken to the hospital, treated for minor injuries and released that night.
Subsequent to the incident, a law enforcement body camera recording of Martin's arrest was provided to the FCSO. An initial review of the video ultimately resulted in FCSO deputies being placed on administrative leave and an FCSO Internal Investigation being opened concerning the potential use of excessive force by the deputies in question.
As of today, the FCSO Internal Investigation has been completed and reviewed. It is clear from interviews, law enforcement supplemental reports and the video recording that Deputy Eugene Watlington engaged in the gratuitous striking (kicking) of suspect Martin while other deputies struggled to restrain the suspect. As a result, Deputy Watlington has been notified of his termination from his position as deputy sheriff effective July 10, 2015 for the use of excessive force against suspect Martin on the night of the incident. In addition to his termination, the FCSO will move to have Deputy Watlington de-certified as a law enforcement officer. A final decision on the employment status of the other deputies involved in the physical altercation and restraint of Martin has not been made at this time. They remain on administrative leave.
In addition to the Internal Investigation, a parallel criminal investigation was initiated for presentation to the 20th Judicial District Prosecuting Attorney's Office for his review as to whether or not felony criminal charges are warranted in the matter. We anticipate that the criminal investigation will be completed by early next week and forwarded to the prosecutor. The FCSO will also be working with federal authorities to determine whether the actions of the deputies involved rise to the level of a federal civil rights violation.
"We are grateful and blessed that all of our law enforcement officers were able to return home physically unharmed to their families following the pursuit that occurred on May 4, 2015. Anytime a law enforcement officer finds himself or herself in a life threatening situation, it is difficult to harness the adrenaline and emotion that naturally occurs. However, we have a duty to hold ourselves to the highest of standards and have been trained to exercise precise judgment and discipline in the heat of the moment by reacting in proportion to perceived threats and by resisting the temptation to retaliate when the moment and danger has passed. It is a difficult task but one that is required to maintain the trust of the people we have sworn to protect and serve."[-Sheriff Andy Shock-]