ACLU of Arkansas Calls on Justice Department to Investigate County Officer Over Harassment of African Americans

Affiliate: ACLU of Arkansas
October 25, 2004 12:00 am

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ACLU of Arkansas
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LITTLE ROCK, AR — The American Civil Liberties Union of Arkansas announced today that it has sent a letter to the Justice Department requesting an investigation into the harassment of African Americans by a county police officer in Brinkley, Arkansas.

According to an official report by Brinkley police officer Ryan Hollowell, on September 21, Britt Simpson, an off-duty officer with the White County Sheriff’s Department, drove through Brinkley stopping, frisking and generally harassing African Americans — including using racial epithets — while displaying his law enforcement badge.

“When police officers engage in such blatant racial discrimination, it results in a negative relationship between members of the community and the law enforcement officials who have taken oaths to protect and to serve all of us, regardless of skin color,” said Rita Sklar, Executive Director of the ACLU of Arkansas. “The Justice Department needs to send a strong message that civil rights abuses by law enforcement officials will not be tolerated.”

According to Hollowell’s report, Simpson stopped several African American males at different times during the evening to harass them. All of the men claimed that Simpson made racial slurs and patted them down, saying he was looking for drugs. Hollowell, who said Simpson was very intoxicated, attempted to calm him down and convince him to go back home. Instead, Simpson snatched Hollowell’s gun and waved it in the air. Hollowell retrieved his firearm, and eventually convinced Simpson to leave town. However, witnesses claim that after Hollowell left, Simpson returned to the area and fired gunshots out of this truck window before finally leaving town.

When the ACLU of Arkansas learned about the incident approximately one month later, it found that no disciplinary action had been taken against Simpson. After the ACLU raised its concern over the lack of response by the police department, Simpson was suspended for 10 days. However, the ACLU said that a 10-day suspension may not be an adequate response and announced that it would request a federal investigation into the alleged civil rights abuses. Simpson resigned after the announcement.

The ACLU submitted the letter on October 20 to Assistant Attorney General Alexander Acosta of the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division.

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