For Abernathy: Commission to consider reinstatement

By REX HOGAN
The Sentinel-Record 6-20-1979

Hot Springs Civil Service Commissioners are expected June 28 to approve a petition lifting the two-year suspension of former policeman Lt. Thurman Abernathy, who wants to rejoin the city force.

City Attorneys Curtis Ridgeway told the five-member board during a Tuesday noon meeting that in his opinion commissioners have no legal alternative, but to reinstate Abernathy.

“I think we are going to be obliged to put him back to work,” Ridgeway said.

Following the meeting, Commission Chairman Joe Poe commented, “I think he will be reinstated, as far as I can determine that is what will happen.” He added that he did not know if any commissioners would vote against the move.

Ridgeway also advised commissioners not to vote on the request until he had received “corroborating” documents confirming reports that a Hot Spring County grand jury last Friday found insufficient evidence to indict Abernathy on a first-degree murder charge.

The 12-year police veteran was an undercover narcotics officer when in June of 1977 he was charged in the death of Linda Edwards, a Garland County Sheriff’s Deputy.

Abernathy, 39, did not appear at the meeting, but stated his intention of rejoining the force by letter.

It read in part, “Please accept this letter as a formal request for reinstatement to employment with the Hot Springs Police Department.

“Inasmuch as all of the allegations made which resulted in my being suspended from employment were formally considered by the Garland County Grand Jury in October of 1976 and most recently by the Hot Spring County Grand Jury at which time the grand jury formally returned “no true bill”, I feel as though I have been completely exonerated.”

Earlier this year, the Arkansas Supreme Court ruled inadmissible certain portions of a key prosecution witness’ testimony given during Abernathy’s preliminary hearing at a Hot Spring County courtroom.

After the ruling, Hot Spring County prosecutor Dan Harmon said he would not pursue the case without a grand jury’s approval.

Police Chief Grover Douglas told the commissioners, “It is my feeling there will be no problem within the department” in the event Abernathy’s request is approved.

He added that Abernathy’s job slot had been filled, “but with the officer’s understanding that if Abernathy came back the officer would resort to his previous position.”

Later at the chief’s office, Douglas said he felt Abernathy was “well liked” by his peers during his police employment period and said he was an officer who had a “good record.”

“I’ll wait on a decision by the commission before I decide where to place him (Abernathy). I will put him where he will be the most productive like I would any other officer,” Douglas said.

According to Ridgeway, should Abernathy be reinstated it will be up to police administrators and city hall officials to determine if Abernathy is entitled to monetary compensation.

He said Abernathy’s police salary accumulated during his suspension period.

However, according to Ridgeway, the money earned by Abernathy during his absence from the force would be subtracted from the back pay total.

The commissioners agreed to take up the reinstatement question a week from Thursday because they will be interviewing prospects for policemen positions on the same day.

Linda Edwards disappeared Aug. 22 1976, and hunters found the victim’s remains in February of 1977 in a wooded area in western Hot Spring County.

The prosecution maintained the death was in connection with an affair in which the victim allegedly was involved.

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