If that don't beat all.
This is a pretty incredible story.
Cop shoots fire chief in Ark. court over tickets
Residents fed up with speed traps in tiny town that has seven officers
Crittenden County sheriff's
Investigator Thomas Martin said of the
Jericho, Ark., police department: "You
can't even get them to answer a call
because normally they're writing tickets."
updated 3:09 p.m. PT, Thurs., Sept . 3, 2009
JERICHO, Ark. - It was just too much, having to return to court twice on the same day to contest yet another traffic ticket, and Fire Chief Don Payne didn't hesitate to tell the judge what he thought of the police and their speed traps.
The response from cops? They shot him. Right there in court.
Payne ended up in the hospital, but his shooting last week brought to a boil simmering tensions between residents of this tiny former cotton city and their police force. Drivers quickly learn to slow to a crawl along the gravel roads and the two-lane highway that run through Jericho, but they say sometimes that isn't enough to fend off the city ticketing machine.
"You can't even get them to answer a call because normally they're writing tickets," said Thomas Martin, chief investigator for the Crittenden County Sheriff's Office. "They're not providing a service to the citizens."
Now the police chief has disbanded his force "until things calm down," a judge has voided all outstanding police-issued citations and sheriff's deputies are asking where all the money from the tickets went. With 174 residents, the city can keep seven police officers on its rolls but missed payments on police and fire department vehicles and saw its last business close its doors a few weeks ago.
"You can't even buy a loaf of bread, but we've got seven police officers," said former resident Larry Harris, who left town because he said the police harassment became unbearable.
Camping out along highway
Sheriff's deputies patrolled Jericho until the 1990s, when the city received grant money to start its own police force, Martin said.
Police often camped out in the department's two cruisers along the highway that runs through town, waiting for drivers who failed to slow down when they reached the 45 mph zone ringing Jericho. Residents say the ticketing got out of hand.
"When I first moved out here, they wrote me a ticket for going 58 mph in my driveway
," 75-year-old retiree Albert Beebe said. WTF?!!!
The frequent ticketing apparently led to the vandalization of the cruisers, and the department took to parking the cars overnight at the sheriff's office eight miles away.
It was anger over traffic tickets that brought Payne to city hall last week, said his lawyer, Randy Fishman. After failing to get a traffic ticket dismissed on Aug. 27, police gave Payne or his son another ticket that day. Payne, 39, returned to court to vent his anger to Judge Tonya Alexander, Fishman said.
It's unclear exactly what happened next, but Martin said an argument between Payne and the seven police officers who attended the hearing apparently escalated to a scuffle, ending when an officer shot Payne from behind.
Bullet also hit another officer
Doctors in Memphis, Tenn., removed a .40-caliber bullet from Payne's hip bone, Martin said. Another officer suffered a grazing wound to his finger from the bullet.
Martin declined to name the officer who shot Payne, pending the outcome of an investigation. No charges have been filed, and it's unclear if the officer has been disciplined.
Crittenden County prosecutors did not respond to a phone message seeking comment.
Payne remains in good condition at the Regional Medical Center at Memphis. Payne referred questions to his lawyer.
"I know that he was unarmed and I know he was shot," Fishman said. "None of that sounds too good for the city to me."
CONTINUED : Where did money collected for tickets go?