Former U.S. attorney Cody Hiland takes state legal post; also developments on the PIT controversy

A news release today confirms my earlier report that former U.S. Attorney Cody Hiland is going to work as chief legal counsel for the Arkansas Department of Public Safety.

A release quoting DPS Secretary Jami Cook said Hiland would go to work Monday. She noted his experience as a U.S. attorney (a political appointment he left after the 2020 presidential election) and as a prosecuting attorney in the district based in Conway. He is to be paid $137,000.

The department has six divisions: Arkansas Commission on Law Enforcement Standards & Training; Arkansas State Police, Arkansas Division of Emergency Management; Arkansas Crime Information Center; Arkansas State Crime Laboratory, and Arkansas Crime Victims Reparations Board.

As I reported earlier, Hiland’s move to a state position is a signal he will not be making a race for attorney general, which he’d once said might be a possibility. There are already two Republican candidates, Lt. Gov. Tim Griffin and Leon Jones Jr. Griffin is planning, unless an Ethics Commission action intervenes (as it should), to roll more than $1 million race for an aborted race for governor into the attorney general’s race, a sum others would have a hard time matching. Two Democrats are also in that race so far, Jason Davis and Jesse Gibson.

The legal job is a new one, but Cook said she’d avoid creating a new position overall in a department recently “transformed” by Governor Hutchinson’s reorganization of state agencies. She’ll use an open slot from the Commission on Law Enforcement Standards. She was its director before being named secretary of the new department.

I’m awaiting responses to whether Hiland will be a sworn officer with police-equipped vehicle, service weapon and so on. UPDATE:  He won’t be though he’ll be able to use DPBS vehicles for official travel.

THE PIT ISSUE

I  also used the opportunity of questions for Cook to ask her about an issue in her department that has suddenly blown up, the use of a PIT (Precision Immobilization Technique) maneuver by state troopers to disable cars being pursued. A video of a trooper using the maneuver on a woman clocked speeding on the Jacksonville Freeway has drawn worldwide attention on social media in the last few days. (An earlier report by KARK, that covered the death of a Black driver after PIT was used didn’t inspire the same viral response). In the later case, which reports on a lawsuit, the driver, a pregnant woman, survived the crash and vehicle turnover. Trooper Rodney Dunn used the maneuver though Janice Harper had slowed and flashed warning signals while looking for a safe place to pull off the road, the procedure outlined by the driver’s license study guide.

I’ve asked Cook’s feelings on use of PIT generally, which is on the rise and at ever higher speeds, and the conflict between the driver’s license study guide on stops and a statutory duty to stop immediately for a trooper. This has implications for precautions taken to allow motorists to seek safe and even lighted stopping places after the Blue Light Rapist terrorized women drivers.

Because of the pending lawsuit, Cook is thinking about a response on some questions I asked today that don’t have a direct bearing on the lawsuit — such as the conflict between law and driver’s manual. I expect to hear more.

Yesterday, in response to queries about the suddenly growing story, this statement was issued:

Three weeks ago (May 18, 2021) a complaint was filed in Pulaski County, Arkansas circuit court seeking a judgement against Arkansas State Police personnel as it relates to the July 9, 2020 incident involving Corporal Rodney Dunn and Ms. Janice Harper.  Because of the pending lawsuit, the Arkansas State Police cannot at this time provide any form of comment you’ve requested as it relates to this case.  Meanwhile, the Arkansas State Police continues to instruct and train state troopers in comprehensive emergency vehicle operation training which includes the approved procedures in the use of PIT.

For your information: Here’s an initial KARK/Fox 16 report on PIT by Susan El-Khoury. And this May 5 report has coverage of the 2019 death of Brian Books in a crash after use of PIT in chase the exceeded 100 mph.

 

 

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