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  • Writer's pictureDennis McCaslin

Baker, local television station provide compelling information about record falsification incident

(Publishers note: As of close of busness on Tuesday, the city of Fort Smith has still not responded fully to our Freedom of Information Request from April 19. Today in Fort Smith will be seeking legal recourse in an effort to get them to comply with our lawful request for information.)

Fort Smith Chief of Police Danny baker

The chief of police of the city of Fort Smith revealed compelling information to a local television concerning a secret, in-house investigation into a falsified accident report and the station apparently ran that information without doing any research into the situation.

That station, KHBS, blatantly sourced the story from Today in Fort Smith after we made the results of the investigation public on Saturday, April, April 24. The station ran the story, by 'journalist' Brett Rains, on Monday without accrediting TIFS and disseminating incorrect information concerning the incident and the cover-up that followed.

Officers Hendricks and Coder in happier days.

The Arkansas Democrat-Gazette also picked up the story today (Tuesday, April 27) but it's unclear if they sourced our original report or took their information from the television report.

The falsified report, involving a minor accident by now-fired K9 officer Michael Coder in his patrol unit, was filed by officer Lauren Hendricks who later went to chief Baker and confessed what she had done.

Officer Lauren Hendricks

The date on the report was listed as four days after the actual accident on April 12 (our original source had given us April 13 as the date) and the dates were reportedly altered to protect Coder.

Hendricks later claimed she had been ordered by narcotics supervisor John Little to file the report with the wrong date and participate in the cover-up. Little stepped down during the investigation and Coder was later fired for "being untruthful".

Hendricks, who is related to local Circuit Judge Annie Hendricks, signed the report with the incorrect date listed as February 12, 2021 in a space that says "The information contained on this report is true to the best of my knowledge and belief".

She estimated the cost of the damages at $500.

Discrepencies between the information our research uncovered and the information in the television report by Rains and 40/29 are glaring.

Baker told 40/29 the actual incident occurred Feb. 12 during an attempted arrest and that both officers and their supervisor were present.

However, our original source stated the accident occurred at the FSPD impound lot, located at a dead end in the 900 block of South R. Street.

The south R address was the location Hendricks put on the report she filed with the incorrect date.

However, TIFS has been told by another source the actual accident may have occurred in another location on February 12 when Coder made a stop on a vehicle and then backed into a dumpster after the stop.

That scenario dovetails with Baker's statement about the accident occurring during an "attempted" arrest". But it also reveals that not only the date of the accident was falsified, but the location as well.

In the false report, Hendricks stated: "On February 16, I arrived at 900 South R to take an accident report". She further stated that "Our supervisor was notified".

Neither of those written statements on the report are consistent with Baker's account. The "attempted arrest" would not have occured at the city impound lot. And if former narcotic supervisor Little was at the "attempted arrest" why would he have to have been notified about the accident?

Click to enlarge

In addition, TIFS requested "the complete disciplinary records" for Coder, Hendricks and the (then) unidentified Little concerning the incident in the FOIA request.

The city never acknowledged the termination of Coder or the resignation of Little as part of the limited information they provided. They did however, provide the disciplinary record of Hendricks.

Ironically. Hendricks disciplinary sheet shows a one-day suspension in August 2018 and a two-day suspension in September 2019. Based on previous stories we have published, both of those suspensions were for propety damage to patrol cars.

Baker told 40/29 "I believe that officer could have come forward quicker with the information and that's what that officer was disciplined for. The other officer, the one that was terminated, never came forward with the information."

However, the disciplinary record provided through the FOIA request specifically asked for information pertaining to disciplne to all three officers concerning the falsified report.

No records of discipline for her actions in this incident were listed on the records provided for Hendricks.

That ommission suggest either Hendricks wasn't disciplined at all prior to the incident becoming public knowledge, was disciplined after our original story appeared, wasn't disciplined at all for falsifying the report or the city failed to provide the information as requested'

Baker also told Rains and 40/29 "The fact that they did not handle it that day, it is a violation of policy, but it wasn't that big of a deal. For whatever reason, the supervisor and one of the officers that was involved in this decided that they were going to fabricate the circumstances on how this accident happened and when it happened.

That statement clearly indicates that Coder and Little conspired to create the false report and deflects any blame in the situation from Hendricks, who actually created and signed the false report as noted above.

Baker also acknowledged that Henrdricks actions were a "violation of policy".

The statement "it wasn't a big deal" is also contrary to the opinions of three criminal attorney's in the area who have contacted Today in Fort Smith requesting the identity of our original sources in the story, which we refused to divulge.

All three attorney's say either Coder or Hendricks was involved in the arrest of one of their clients in the past. Two said they may seek to overturn the convictions on appeal, while the other said he would seek to have the charges against his client dismissed based on "potential falsified reports".

Today in Fort Smith is reaching out to the Arkansas Municipal League and the State Attorney General office for more information on the possible ramifications of the falsified records.

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