- The Washington Times - Friday, September 4, 2009

JERICHO, Ark. (AP) | 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 police officers? They shot him. Right there in court.

Chief 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.

Sheriff’s deputies patrolled Jericho until the 1990s, when the city received grant money to start its own police force, Mr. 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,” retiree Albert Beebe, 75, said.

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 Chief Payne to City Hall last week, said his attorney, Randy Fishman. After failing to get a traffic ticket dismissed Aug. 27, police gave Chief Payne or his son another ticket that day. Chief Payne, 39, returned to court to vent his anger to Judge Tonya Alexander, Mr. Fishman said.

It’s not clear what happened next, but Mr. Martin said an argument between Chief Payne and the seven police officers who attended the hearing apparently escalated to a scuffle, ending when an officer shot Chief Payne from behind.

Doctors in Memphis, Tenn., removed a .40-caliber bullet from Chief Payne’s hip bone, Mr. Martin said. Another officer suffered a grazing wound to his finger from the bullet.

Mr. Martin declined to name the officer who shot Chief Payne, pending the outcome of an investigation. No charges have been filed, and it’s not clear whether the officer has been disciplined.

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