By LARRY AULT
The Sentinel-Record 1-14-1977
Col. Doug Harp, director of the Arkansas State Police, says that the investigation into the disappearance of Garland County Sheriff’s Deputy Linda Edwards is continuing, even though law enforcement authorities have come up against a “block wall” in their investigation.’
Harp said that the Criminal Investigation Division of the ASP has a “case file 12 inches high” on the Edwards case, and has conducted “hundreds of interviews”, however, he said that law enforcement authorities have only located “a, few scattered little leads” in the case, which will “never be closed” until some disposition of the matter is obtained.’
Harp was responding to an inquiry regarding a letter which Garland County Sheriff Leon Barlow wrote to Gov. David Pryor regarding the investigation.
Sheriff Barlow noted in his letter that he was not asking the Governor to use his influence in the case, but was merely making him aware of what Barlow considers “the situation which exists in Hot Springs.”
While Sheriff Barlow was complimentary of the way in which the Criminal Investigators for the Arkansas State Police handled the’ investigation into the disappearance of Mrs. Edwards, he said that he is disturbed about the way that the “city officials of Hot Springs and the Civil Service Commission seem to be so very uncooperative and unconcerned about this. They have a very good habit of ignoring things hoping they will go away.”
Barlow provided the governor with a copy of a letter which was mailed to the five members of the Civil Service Commission and Mayor Tom Ellsworth. He said he hoped the letter would persuade the city officials to take “care of this matter now which is of great importance to this county and law enforcement in general.”
The two page letter generally described a portion of the criminal investigation into the disappearance of Mrs. Edwards, claiming that a police officer at the Hot Springs Police department was questioned in connection with her disappearance.
According to the letter, the officer refused to’ testify before the Garland County Grand Jury and would not take a’ polygraph test in connection with the disappearance. The officer was a “known associate” of hers, said Barlow.
Barlow was critical of the way in which the city officials had handled the matter, noting that “when a police officer is this uncooperative during an investigation and the Civil Service Commission docs not have legal grounds and cause to dismiss him from the department; then I am afraid that law enforcement in general is in jeopardy and there is not much justice left.”
Barlow said he believed that if the officer was unwilling to cooperate with a criminal investigation, that he should be dismissed as a police officer.
The belief by Sheriff Barlow that a police officer who refuses to cooperate in a criminal investigation should be dismissed opened up a wide discussion of the legal aspects of the case, which everyone interviewed agreed was complex in nature.
Sam Stathakis, chairman of the Hot Springs Civil Service Commission, said that if a crime had been committed that authorities would have something a little more concrete to deal with.
As for the officer under suspicion at the Hot Springs Police Department Stathakis said that authorities had no proof that he had committed a crime, because it could not be proven that a crime occurred.
Stathakis said that City Attorney Curtis Ridgeway had advised the city officials that they should not discuss the case in too much detail for fear of being sued for libel or slander.
“The City Attorney and says there is nothing we can do to the officer involved,” noted Stathakis.
While Sheriff Barlow was stating that he believed the city officials were involved in a “cover up” of the police officers involvement in the case, Stathakis noted that the police officer has constitutional rights just like any other citizen, and that those rights must be protected.
Stathakis said that an officer can be dismissed from the police force for not cooperating with a criminal investigation, however, be said that “under the circumstances, we can’t do anything.”
He then noted that he did not want to make any further comments regarding the case.
Police Chief Grover Douglas noted that there were “certain things” about the letter which Sheriff Barlow wrote to the city officials concerning the matter “that I would disagree with” however, he dismissed most of the conversation as being “strictly hearsay.”
Prosecuting Attorney Walter G. Wright, who said that his office had nothing to do with the way in which the City handles its personnel matters but noted that “there are cases that hold that even a policeman is entitled to his constitutional rights.”
Wright said that exercising his constitutional rights would not subject the officer to dismissal.
Calling the case “a complex issue” Wright further reiterated that the investigation was further complicated because there has been no “specific crime” committed. There has been no body located, no crime proven, and the police officer is entitled to his constitutional rights not to testify, said Wright.
Mayor Tom Ellsworth said that he was reluctant to discuss the matter because it involved what amounts to “an active investigation” and a case which is not closed.
Noting that “we can’t act without any proof” the Mayor further cited court decisions which have held that an officer may be dismissed from the police force if he refuses to cooperate in a criminal investigation, unless he is a suspect in the case. Then he has a constitutional right to refuse.
City Attorney Curtis Ridgeway noted that he was concerned about the situation, but had issued no written opinion about the matter one way or another.
Ridgway said a refusal to take a polygraph test was not grounds for dismissal of the officer, and that his constitutional rights must be protected.
Ridgeway said that the Civil Service Commission has apparently adopted no regulations one way or another concerning an officers’ refusal to cooperate in an investigation.
Ridgeway said if the officer was dismissed at this time that, “it probably wouldn’t be sustained in the courts.”
“We don’t know a crime was committed. The Grand Jury investigated this thoroughly and came up with nothing,” he said.
Ridgeway said that no facts “have been uncovered which would have warranted his dismissal.”
Civil Service Commission Chairman Stathakis noted that the commission would probably deal with departmental regulations concerning officers cooperating with investigations at its January meeting.
In the letter which Sheriff Barlow sent to Mayor Tom Ellsworth and the Hot Springs Civil Service Commission, he said that as sheriff he has attempted to develop good working relationships between the Sheriff’s Department and the Hot Springs Police Department.
However, Barlow noted that in recent months “events have occurred that make it near impossible until something is resolved. I have appealed to various ones, who are in a position to help this situation, but the answer seems to be “I don’t want to get involved” or “I don’t want to rock the boat.”
“It is my feeling that if the boat is that unstable and insecure, we may have a cover up and a hush-hush attitude for the protection of others who may be fearful of their own exposure to illicit deeds and activities. If this is so, then I am sure the whole system has problems,” he said.
“At this time, there is very little working relation by our department and that of the City Police Department. In fact, it is rumored that some of the men in the Police Department do not want to work with (the suspected officer),” he said.
Barlow said it was common knowledge that a female deputy named Linda Edwards has missing since last summer. She was pregnant and just prior to her disappearance, named the officer as the father, he said.
“It is also known that on the evening that she became missing, she left a friends house at about eleven o’clock and stated that she was going to meet with him and put the pressure on him even if she had to go to his home and confront him with his wife present,” said Barlow in the correspondence.
Barlow said that when a Criminal Investigator for the Garland County Sheriff’s Department contacted the city policeman, that the officer “denied that he ever dated her, but then admitted he had, but not in two years. Later he changed his statement because he had been confronted with names and conditions that would prove his statements untrue,” said the Sheriff.
Barlow said the officer refused to take a polygraph test and later on, when the Grand Jury investigation was held, the officer took the Fifth Amendment and would not reveal his whereabouts during this critical time.
“He cannot account for his whereabouts for approximately two hours or more which includes the time Deputy Linda Edwards was last seen and when her vehicle was discovered abandoned on State Highway 290 near Hot Springs,” said Barlow.
“When the State Police was called in for an investigation (the officers name) was given as one who was known to associate with Linda Edwards and one who had not answered truthfully the questions he had been asked,” said Barlow.
“When the State Police called for him at the Police Department, the officials refused to submit him for questioning. Later they agreed if two officers were present during the questioning,” Barlow continued in his letter.
Barlow said that the City Officials refused to allow the officer to be taken to State Police Headquarters in Hot Springs, and that the interview was held at the Hot Springs Police Department by an Arkansas State Police officer.
“There was also some assistance from Honorable Circuit Judge Henry M. Britt, until then (the officer) had been harbored by his own department,” said the Sheriff.
“Although we have not discovered a body, (the officer) still stands as a prime suspect and one who has failed to cooperate with the State Police in this matter,” said Barlow.
“I cannot help but believe that more is involved than just protecting a fellow officer. I feel that a police officer should be even more cooperative if he is not guilty,” said Barlow.
“Citizens and family members are now asking some embarrassing questions. They have heard about other incidents that have occurred that are highly questionable within the ranks of city government and police decorum,” he said.
“I cannot say there is a feat of all people involved that if one person gets roasted that he will begin to talk and implicate others, but since it is beginning to be the talk over the town, I feel it imperative that you take a close look at this affair and give the citizens a fair and honest appraisal. We have far too many incidents overlooked because, so as to speak, someone may be a big wheel,” said Barlow in his letter to the governor.
“I keep getting the answer, we can’t do anything because there is no body. Also there is proof that two other Hot Springs City Police Officers questioned one of the Grand Jury witnesses at length about this incident which I feel was very irregular,” he said.
“It is in the State Police report that (the officer) make the statement to one of his fellow officers “let the State Police find out what happened to her the hard way.”
“There have been rumors of threats made to other witnesses also,” Barlow said.
“Linda Edwards being a Deputy Sheriff of Garland County, I feel this department has had very little consideration in this matter, and I am very much disappointed with the results at this time. I am sure I can speak for her family also,” he said.
Barlow told the Civil Service Commission that “I am appealing to you to look into this matter of which is of great concern to me and this department.”
The Garland County Grand Jury noted in its year end report for 1976 that the investigation into the disappearance of Deputy Sheriff Linda Edwards was to be continued this year by the 1977 Garland County Grand Jury after it is empanelled.