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Excessive traffic ticket writing leads to shooting in court

The Fire Chief in Jericho, Arkansas got a traffic ticket.  He told the judge what he thought of the police force that issued the ticket and their speed traps.  The entire police force of seven was there in court to hear what he had to say.

The police response?  They shot him. Right there in court.

The recent shooting brought national attention to this small, former cotton city.   On a local level, drivers have been well aware for some time of the ticketing machine that is Jericho.

You probably didn’t have any success if you tried to call the police force to complain about the excessive ticketing.  You can’t get someone to pick up the phone “because normally they’re writing tickets,” according to the chief investigator for the Crittenden County Sheriff’s Office.

Sheriff’s deputies patrolled Jericho until the 1990s, when the city received grant money to start its own police force.  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.  One resident complained he got a speeding ticket in his own driveway.  Other residents actually resorted to vandalization of the police cruisers to the extent that the department had to start parking the cars overnight at the sheriff’s office eight miles away.

It was anger about all these traffic tickets that brought the Fire Chief to court last week.  He fought one ticket on August 27th and failed to get it dismissed.  He was then issued another ticket the same day and returned to court to vent his anger.  It’s unclear exactly what happened next, but apparently and argument between Chief Payne and the seven police officers who attended the hearing apparently escalated to a scuffle and ultimately a shooting from behind.

Fire Chief Payne was unarmed at the time.

The Police Chief is temporarily disbanding the police force and the sheriff’s department has been patrolling the town in the meantime.

The judge has voided all the tickets written by the department both inside the city and others written outside of its jurisdiction — citations that the department apparently had no power to write.

Meanwhile, sheriff’s deputies want to know where the money from the traffic fines went because the city is struggling financially.   Sheriff’s deputies once had to repossess one of the town’s police cruisers for failure to pay on a lease, and the state Forestry Commission recently repossessed one of the city’s fire trucks because of nonpayment.

One resident complained that “You can’t even buy a loaf of bread, but we’ve got seven police officers.”

The story unfolding in this small southern town makes two things clear.  First, the emotions surrounding ticketing and the push/pull of drivers and enforcement officers is real and can be explosive.  No one likes to be unfairly accused of something and potentially punished for it.  Second, this shows the slippery slope that is the safety vs. revenue generation conversation.  This town obviously lived on the extreme end of that slope but what ended up happening may serve as a warning for others to work harder to find the right balance.  It’s ok to generate revenue via traffic enforcement but it is NOT ok to abuse that power.  Bad things can, maybe even will, happen.

Submitted by Scott Feifer

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