Civil Service Commission chairman writes letter to Sheriff: Criticism of city officials draws response

The Sentinel-Record 1-19-1977
By LARRY AULT

Sam Stathakis, chairman of the Hot Springs Civil Service Commission, Tuesday made public a letter written to Garland County Sheriff Leon Barlow in response to criticism Barlow had levied against city officials in connection with the investigation of the disappearance of Deputy Sheriff Linda Edwards.

Barlow was critical of the city officials, in part, because a Hot Springs Police officer was not dismissed from the police department when he refused to cooperate in the Arkansas State Police investigation of the matter.

Barlow said he received the letter Tuesday afternoon and considered the document to be “mis-stated” in regard to the commission’s interpretation of the letter he wrote in November complaining about the way in which the City officials had handled the investigation.

“The commission has mis-stated the facts, they have misinterpreted the entire letter,” said Barlow.

Barlow said that he had never accused the City officials of a “criminal cover-up” in the Edwards case, but was critical of the fact that a city police officer who refused to cooperate in the investigation was not dismissed from the police department.

In the letter to Sheriff Barlow, Stathakis said, “I feel the publication of your unfortunate and illadvised letter of Nov. 8, 1976 and its libelous interpretation by the local press that various officials of the City of Hot Springs are engaged in a cover-up of a crime requires some comment by me.”

Stathakis continued, “If you will recall, when this letter was initially received by the Mayor (Mayor Tom Ellsworth) and by me, a meeting took place at our request to discuss the matters therein.”

“We explained that we have received legal advice that no action could be taken against the Police Officer and no inferences could be taken from the exercise of his constitutional right not to incriminate himself. At this time you were in full accord with the position that we had taken,” wrote Stathakis.

“As you know, the members of the Hot Springs Police Department are professional career law enforcement officers, and their conduct is governed by Civil Service laws adopted by the State of Arkansas which provide, among other things, that they cannot be disciplined, reduced in rank or their employment terminated except for good cause,” he said.

“It is our understanding that the Criminal Investigation Division of the Arkansas State Police, your office, and the Garland County Grand Jury have conducted a thorough and in-depth investigation of the disappearance of Miss Edwards, and as of this date, no facts have been committed, and, we have nothing more to act on at this point than the fact that Miss Edwards is missing,” he said.

“At no time during the course of this investigation has any agency of the City of Hot Springs been asked to participate in this matter, however, on several occasions agencies of the City have furnished information to your office and to the State Police which they felt might be helpful in this matter,” he wrote.

“The Hot Springs Police Department continues to stand ready to actively participate with your office and with the Arkansas State Police in any area which might be helpful in solving this whole unfortunate matter,” he said.

“I would like to say again that the elected officials of this City, the members of the Hot Springs Civil Service Commission, and the Hot Springs Police Department resent very deeply the libelous implications of your letter that we are engaged in a cover-up in connection with the disappearance of Miss Edwards. I hope that in the future better communication channels are developed with your office and the city of Hot Springs so that this type of unfortunate dialog can be discontinued, and that both agencies can work together more effectively so that the citizens of this City and County can receive effective and unbiased law enforcement,” he said.

A copy of the letter was hand delivered to the offices of The Sentinel-Record Tuesday afternoon just hours after the Civil Service Commission had met for its monthly meeting and discussed the matter.

Stathakis told the commission he intended to draft the letter and had several “rough drafts” prepared. He said he would discuss the letter with the various members of the commission prior to making it public.

Stathakis said the letter was in response to both the comments of Sheriff Barlow and the discussion by the news media of the Linda Edwards disappearance.

Stathakis said at the meeting that the commission had discussed its “action” in connection with the police officer “allegedly involved” in the Edwards case and would continue to abide by a legal opinion of the City Attorney which stated that under the circumstances, the officer was within his legal constitutional rights not to testify in the matter and could not be dismissed from the police force because he refused to take a polygraph test.

Stathakis said he also planned to personally call Mrs. H.R. Browning, mother of the missing deputy, and discuss with her the legal bounds on the city defined by the city attorney in connection with the investigation.

Stathakis said that he realized it is difficult for a parent to accept the legal restrictions on the investigation and added that “she has all my sympathy.”

“They want action and there is no action we can take at this time,” he said, adding, “I will explain what we can do and can’t do.” Stathakis said he planned to contact Mrs. Browning “most likely” today.

In connection with the letter which Sheriff Barlow wrote to the Commission in November, Commissioner Fred Dale said that “some of the inferences he made need to be defended,” Stathakis said that he believed it was “mandatory that a reply be made.”

Commissioner Arthur Ray noted that he believed it was necessary that the commission continue to work with the city attorney in the matter, while Commissioner Warren Frazier said that “we have no control over hearsay or public opinion.”

Commissioner Dale added that he considered the contents of the letter drafted by Sheriff Barlow to be “a personal slap” and added that he believed “the truth must be spoken.”

Stathakis added that members of the commission were invited to join him in writing the letter, if they desired to. Stathakis stressed that “we have not mentioned the officers name, for the record.

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