• Dennis McCaslin

Report: Incidents surrounding falsified FSPD report brings integrity of department into question

(Publishers note: Today in Fort Smith has developed a number of independent sources on this story and has sent a Freedom of Information Act request for more information on the situation to Mayor George McGill, City Administrator Carl Geffken, the city of Fort Smith Human Resources Department, the Fort Smith Police Department, the head of the Fort Smith Civil Service Commission and all seven of the sitting city directors. As of this writing, the police department and the city of Fort Smith, through their law firm, has responded with part of the information we sought. The police department turned over information the public information officer had been authorized to release. The city's lawfirm is playing semantics with other sought information and is also awaiting an opinion from the Arkansas Attorney General's office on the release of records concerning the supervisor who stepped down. In part, TIFS contends the involved parties have show blatant disregard for supplying part of the infomation we requested. )

Information has surfaced concerning an incident earlier this year that resulted in the termnation of one Fort Smith Police Department K9 officer and the resignation of a narcotics squad supervisor over an incident in which records were reportedly falsified concerning a minor vehicle accident involving a FSPD patrol car.

A third officer, who originally wrote the accident report and supposedly falsified the date of the accident apparantly did so as an agreement 'to try and protect' the fired officer, who had previously been involved in accidents while on duty.

That third officer later claimed she falisified the report at the behest of the now resigned supervisor

According to one of our sources and information obtained through the Arkansas FOIA, former K9 officer Michael Dillon Coder backed his patrol unit into a trash dumpster on the FSPD impound lot at the end of his shift on Friday, February 13. However, the police report filed by officer Lauren Hendricks reported the date of the accident as three days later on Febuary 16.

The difference between two dates is significant as it applies to the falsifcation of the report. While Fort Smith experienced bitter cold during the first half of February this year, the region experienced a series of snowstorms on February 14-18. A source says the date of the report was falsified to reflect Coder's accident was due to weather conditions and not inattention on his part.

Independent sources contend that Coder, Hendricks and narcotics supervisor John Little allegedly conspired to change the date of the incident on the report in an effort to 'cover up' for Coder. The sources also contend that all three officers were willingly involved with the subtifuge.

FSPD Chief Danny Baker

Earlier this month, Police Chief Danny Baker sent a voice mail to members of the police department concerning the incident and the investigation that followed.

In that voice message, Baker acknowledge the accident, the termination of Coder and the resignation of Little.

He also praised the actions of Hendricks for "coming forward" and telling the truth.

Click to enlarge

Hendricks, who has received disciplinary suspensions in the past for her own accidents involving patrol cars, reportedly now contends she only turned in the falsified report because of pressure from narcotics supervisor Little. At least two sources confirm that detail, and Baker said in his voice message that Little "forced" two subordinate officers to falsify the report.

"Both officers initially complied with the order...one of those officers did the right thing and reported the incident before it was discovered," Baker said in the message. "The other officer did not. The supervisor in question tendered their resignation in the middle of the investigation. The officer who chose not to report the incident was terminated."

Baker referenced the investigation as "very sensitive and confidential" and said he appreciated the "professionalism, decorum and confidentiality you have exhibited at this time."

(TIFS has an audio copy of this recording. We know of no way to make it available to the public through this forum. Individuals who would like to listen to the recording should feel free to message us and we we will gladly supply the sound file.)

As part of our Freedom of Information discovery request, Today in Fort Smith has determined in the time period between Janury 1, 2017 and the date of the falsified report, the three officers involved made or where part of numerous arrests.

The records reflect Henricks (656), Coder (424) and Little (246) were involved in the number of arrests (noted in pararenthesis next to their name) during the time period.

A source, close to the situation and requesting anonymity for fear of reprisal, questioned the ethics, integrity and viabilily of a department that apparantly condones 'some' officers' filing falsified reports and how that reflects on the department as a whole.

"Apparantly, the officer who actually falsified the report avoided discipline because she 'came clean' about breaking departmental regulations," said the source. "The first thing they teach us in academy is if 'you lie, you die'...if you lie on one report, what's to say you didn't lie on another? People mistrust the police enough as it is. We don't need to give them extra incentive to do so."

"The administration of this department needs to address transparency and quit praising 'decorum and confidentiality' when it suits their needs or persional whims," continued the source. "There needs to be one set of rules that applies across the board. That wasn't the situation under the previous administration and I guess it doesn't apply under this one either."

Another source contends that the majority of the members of a 'review board' recommended the termination of both Coder and Hendricks.

"He essentially fired one officer and praised a second one for committing the same infraction, " said the source.

(Michael Coder refused comment on his firing when contacted by TIFS. This is a continuing and developing story and we will update our information once all the FOIA hurdles have been cleared.)

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