By REX HOGAN
The Sentinel-Record 7-18-79
Members of the Hot Springs Civil Service Commission Tuesday voted unanimously to end former police lieutenant Thurman Abernathy’s two-year suspension and directed he be “notified to report to duty immediately.”
The five-man board last month postponed action on Abernathy’s written reinstatement request at the recommendation of city attorney Curtis Ridgway, who asked for time to receive official notification that there are no pending criminal charges against Abernathy.
Abernathy was working as a narcotics officer on the local force when he was charged two years ago with first degree murder in connection with the death of Linda Edwards, who was a Garland County Sheriff’s Deputy.
The charge was dismissed earlier this year.
Ridgway told the board he had received a letter from Hot Spring County prosecutor Dan Harmon which stated issues in the Edwards case had been presented to a grand jury and it chose not to indict Abernathy.
Ridgway said Harmon wrote that “until such time as new evidence is brought forth’ there will be no other legal activity involving Abernathy.
Commissioners voting to lift the suspension were Ott Ray, Warren Frazier, Larry Stephens, and George Watson.
Commission Chairman Joe Poe abstained. He is required to vote only when the commissioners equally divide themselves on an issue.
Abernathy, 39, sent the board a letter during its last month’s meeting in which he stated his intention of rejoining the police department.
Following the noon meeting, Ridgway said, “It’s a simple fact that after an exhaustive investigation there apparently was not enough evidence to indict him (Abernathy).
“The man was suspended because he was charged with a crime and as far as we are able to understand he is no longer charged. There is no active investigation into the matter and we have no choice,” Ridgway said.
Police Chief Grover Douglas commented Tuesday at his office, that he will not make a decision concerning Abernathy’s position within the department until after he and Abernathy discuss the matter.
“At this time I have not made an assignment and will not until I talk with him,” Douglas said, “At this point he probably is not aware of the commission’s decision. I feel he will soon be in contact with me.”
Douglas added that Abernathy’s return to work probably will result in a demotion for one recently promoted lieutenant. The chief had said earlier the lieutenant’s position was filled with the understanding should Abernathy be allowed back on the force a demotion would occur.
“He was suspended as a lieutenant; he will come back as a lieutenant. I believe under the present structure the last lieutenant promoted will go back. I’m not sure, circumstances may change that, but this is my thinking,” he said.
Abernathy’s reinstatement also entitles him to collect all police benefits, including his salary, which were lost as a result of the suspension.
City Clerk J. Harold Smith said he was not absolutely positive of what procedures would be followed in determining Abernathy’s total compensation.
However, he did say, “We can determine to the penny and very easily what his salary would have been.”
According to Ridgeway, the money Abernathy made during his absence from the force will be deducted from his back pay.
Abernathy’s legal problems began shortly after hunters found the victim’s remains in wooded section of western Hot Springs County in February of 1977.
She had been reported missing since Aug. 22, 1976.
Consequently, Abernathy was charged with first-degree murder and the case proceeded to the preliminary hearing stage, but this was halted as a result of an objection raised by Abernathy’s attorney.
The defense attorney contested certain portions of a key prosecution witness’ testimony which purportedly romantically linked Abernathy and Ms. Edwards and alleged the two were to meet on the night of her disappearance.
The state Supreme Court last March ruled much of the testimony was inadmissible.
The case was then turned over to a Hot Spring County grand jury and it found insufficient evidence to indict Abernathy.
According to Ridgeway, to his knowledge the commissioners considered only the murder charge when it moved to suspend Abernathy.
“He was suspended because he had been charged with a crime. We cannot back up and say you’ve got some more problems,” Ridgeway said.
Neither Abernathy nor his Little Rock attorney, Jack Holt Jr., could be reached for comment.