Report: Information, audio files from FOIA request reveals even more details about FSPD scandal
By: Dennis McCaslin
Over two-and-a-half hours of audio files and 64-pages of information released by the Fort Smith Police Department confirms the previous information surrounding a termination, a resignation and the perception of preferential treatment given to a third officer in the FSPD record falsification fiasco.
Today in Fort Smith was the first media source to break the story back on April 24 and the only outlet to bring you continued investigative reporting on the situation.
Lauren Hendricks and Michael Coder
Officer Michael Coder and narcotics supervisor John D. Little lost their jobs with the department in early April after Coder was fired and Little tendered his resignation during the investigation of an incident in which a third officer falsified an accident report. The third officer later claimed she did under duress and orders from Little.
That officer, Lauren Hendricks, violated Fort Smith Police Department Policy and Procedure Rule 706 by actually signing and submitting the document but was given only a written reprimand for her actions.
Co-workers complain and reserach reveasls the incident is not the first time Hendricks has been shown preferential treatment during her four year career, first by former chief of police Nathaniel Clark and now under current FSPD boss Danny Baker.
To recap the situation on February 12, 2021, Coder, Hendricks and a third officer were staging at the FSPD storage and impound yard on South R Street to assist in the potential arrest of a robbery suspect. The third officer, Tanner Carroll, got a dispatch call and Coder and Hendricks had to move their units because they had his patrol unit blocked in.
Coder backed into a dumpster causing approximately $500 worth of damage. Department policy states that when an accident occurs, the officer or officers involved are expected to call their supervisor immediately.
Moments later the call came in the suspect in the sting operation was going into a convenience store on Towson and Hendricks told Coder to wait on reporting the acident because "it's going down".
Coder called supervisor Little anyway and reported the accident and the officers left in pursuit of the suspect, who had somehow gotten back into his truck and fled.
The implication in the information from the FOIA implies that undercover officers did not pursue the truck in order to maintain their cover. While responding to the call, Hendricks spotted the northbound vehicle while driving south on Towson Avenue. Hendricks immediately engaged her emergency lights, spooking the suspect, before she could get turned around.
Coder, who was late to the pursuit, actually stopped a different vehicle on Towson before the operation was called off by supervisors. The suspect was later arrested and has since been released on bail.
The officers all returned to the downtown station later that day and at the close of the shift, Little told Coder they would handle the accident report on Tuesday, February 16. He also called Hendicks later that night on her cell phone with the same edict.
Hendricks said she was on duty during a snowstorm on February 16 when Little called her and told her to go to the impound lot on South R Street to take an accident report. Hendricks says when she arrived. Little was there and told her to "chart" the accident as if it had occurred that day and gave her a narrative on how the accident "occurred" for the report.
Click to enlarge.
Hendricks wrote out the accident report as outlined by Little, and signed and dated it for February 16, in direct violation of the FSPD policy and procedure rules.
Rule 706 states: "Officers shall not knowingly falsify or alter any report, document or record or cause to be entered any inaccurate, false or improper information on records, documents or reports of the Department or of any court".
Rule 703 of the same handbook, which has to be signed by each officer on a frequent basis states: "Officers shall be truthful at all times, whether under oath or not, when conducting official police business".
Hendricks later admitted that she affixed her signature to the false report.
When investigators later asked Hendricks why she didn't stand up to Little when told to falsify the report , she said she did so because "she operates out of fear and just does what Sgt. Little tells her to".
Coder also echoed a similar sentiment during the investigation.
FSPDE police chi9ef Danny Baker
Further research reveals that the incident may have gone unnoticed except for Hendrick's confession to chief Baker on March 1 when she suddenly decided to come clean about the false report.
That sudden confession came a few days after another incident which apparently spooked Hendricks into truthfulness.
On February 19, Little called Hendricks and told her she needed to see Captain Anthony Parkinson, who noticed the report did not mention the snowy conditions on February 16 and wanted to make the necessary corrections.
Hendricks told investigators she was concerned because she did not know how far up the chain "it" went but complied and made the requested changes to the report, implying Parkinson may have been involved in a cover-up by refusing to reveal the false report at that time.
Parkinson, who said he learned about the accident via text from Little on February 16, told investigators he was shocked when he later heard about the falsified report. He also said his only concern for having Hendricks come to his office was that the report did not reflect the weather conditions on February 16.
The meeting with Parkinson was not the only time Hendricks had an opportunity to confess to the falsified report. She also had been in a unit with a sergeant following a dog training exercise in Ozark at a later date when he expressed some concerns because he felt Coder and Hendricks were "acting funny" about the accident.
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The deception continued the following week. On Monday, March 1 , Hendricks went to Baker and confessed to the falsified report, throwing Little and Coder under the bus in the process. She also claimed she had been subjected to a "hostile working environment" during that session with Baker.
She confessed the false report to Baker and turned over a list of complaints over incidents that she said she had to endure over the past year. Those complaints included "comments about her sexual orientation and appearance" and other claims, saying she waited a week after the Parkinson incident to come forth because she was afraid of Little and that she waited for him to go on vacation before meeting with Baker.
The following day when speaking with investigators, Hendricks was informed she could have reported being "ordered" to put the false date on the report to not only the police administration but to the city human resources department as well.
Handwritten memo from investigator's notes.
When asked why she failed to do so she first replied "I feel that question is kind of intimidating" before launching into her own defense of being "afraid for her job" by refusing Little's order or telling anyone else because "I don't trust many people here."
In one interview, Hendricks tearfully broke down while relating the "stress" she had been under.
Chief Baker essentially put a gag order on everyone involved in the investigation. Apparently, the order included the threat of termination for anyone who talked about the investigation.
The investigation lasted six weeks. Little, facing the possibility of termination, tendered his resignation on March 30 via an email to Baker.
A "reviewing committee" of two superior officers and a representative of the human resources department all came to the same conclusion: that all of the involved officers had violated a number of rules and procedures, essentially recommending the termination of both Coder and Hendricks.
In a video conference with those three members of the review board a few days later Baker foreshadowed his final decision by saying "you may not agree with me, but I will make my final decision based on what I think is best for this department and the employees of the Fort Smith Police Department.
Officer Lauren Hendricks
On March 13, Coder was terminated. The same day, Hendricks received a written reprimand for violation of the FSPD Department Direction and Obedience to Orders policy, not only keeping her on the force but effectively shielding her from any possible disqualification as a witness in future cases because of being cited for lyng.
Hendicks has been suspended twice in the past for property damage accidents in her unit. During her interview with investigators, she revealed she had actually been involved in five accident while on duty since joining the force.
One source says the practice of not showing favoritism or preferential treatment overall "has gotten better since he (Baker) took over" but that morale becomes a problem when it is so apparent to the rest of the department of different standards involving some individuals.
"Anyone else would have probably already been fired because of the five accidents and there have been other incidents and situations as well that all seem to just get glossed over," said the source. "So they go through the entire investigation, the review board comes to the right decision and then he lets her slide because she cried and said everyone was picking on her?
"She signed a false police report....end of story," said the source.
A second ex-officer from the area contacted Today in Fort Smith with the following statement:
"She should suffer the same fate as the others. You can’t be forgiven because you got caught and panicked and told on everyone. If you participate in a crime and get scared and come clean you don’t get a pass. You still committed a crime. Which she did. Signing a police report as the officer affirms all information is true and correct to the best of your knowledge and signing a report knowing it’s false is a crime."
The FSPD sought the advice of the Sebastian County Prosecuter's office, who has a history of not pursuing criminal complaints against the department. Prosecutor Dan Shue told the FSPD that no crime had been committed.
No indication was given anywhere in the FOIA information on why Little ordered Hendricks to falsify the report. Coder is said to have filed an appeal with the Fort Smith Civil Service Commission.
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