The Rise and Demise of Jean Duffey’s Task Force
By Jean Duffey
After attending graduate school at Texas A&M on the G.I. Bill, my husband, Duff, bought my dad’s moving company out of Hot Spring County, Arkansas. Duff built the business up around the Little Rock area, and in 1984, when I started law school in Little Rock, we moved to Saline County. During my second year of law school, I clerked for the City of Little Rock and stayed on as an assistant city attorney after graduation. In the summer of 1988, Dan Harmon called and asked if he and Richard Garrett could come to my home one Sunday morning. They came over to ask if I would work for Garrett if he was elected prosecutor of the Seventh Judicial District made up of Saline, Hot Spring, and Grant County. I gladly accepted the offer since it was a part-time job and the office was ten minutes from home. When Gary Arnold won the election instead of Garrett, Arnold called and offered me the same position. I was puzzled about that until I learned how the district’s “good old boys” crisscrossed party lines. I still don’t understand why I was asked to come on board, but it wasn’t long until they regretted doing so.
On January 1, 1989, Gary Arnold took office I was assigned to prosecute primarily in Saline County. I immediately clashed with a municipal judge and several Saline County defense attorneys, including Harmon, because I disrupted their way of taking care of DWI’s. I had heard rumors that $2000 would make a DWI “go away,” and with a percentage of DWI-convictions in the sixty percentile the previous year, it looked like several defendants came up with the cash. Ray Baxter, dubbed one of the county’s most prominent “good old boys,” is a Saline County defense attorney. After losing a DWI trial for one of his clients, Baxter was red-faced and outraged. He assured me I would be gone within six months. I survived though, and by the end of six months, the DWI conviction rate was in the ninety percentile. Teresa Harmon, one of Dan Harmon’s ex-wives, told me Harmon particularly hated me because he was the one who invited me into Saline County and I betrayed him.
Gary Arnold took heat over me, but he was initially supportive because I was popular with other county officials. Thousands of dollars in fines and court costs were pouring into the county treasury instead of lawyers’ pockets. Also, the law enforcement officers and victims of crimes were pleased to have an advocate – something they weren’t used to. Arnold told me I made him “look good.”
In March of 1990, Arnold’s office received federal and state funding to set up a drug task force in our district. The Arkansas Department of Finance and Administration (DFA) sent Arnold a formal notification letter on April 16, 1990 which served as a contract between Arnold and DFA. Page one of the letter verifies the official date the Seventh Judicial District Drug Task Force was established, and page two verifies Arnold’s contractual obligations. Arnold appointed the heads of the district’s eight largest law enforcement agencies to serve on the task force board, and one of them approached me about taking the job as administrator. I declined twice, but the board was not satisfied with any of the applicants and finally talked me into accepting. This was, however, in spite of Arnold’s protests.
Arnold, who was holding his first public office, had higher political ambitions and had obviously become one of the “good old boys.” The district’s politically prestigious Circuit Court Judge John Cole made it clear he was opposed to my appointment, calling me “dangerous” according to Robert Shepherd, the state drug czar at that time. Arnold vehemently argued to the board against me, but the other seven members ignored him and unanimously voted to hire me.
The very day the board made my appointment official, Gary Arnold walked into my office, stood in front of my desk, looked straight through me when I glanced up, and said matter-of-factly, “Jean, you are not to use the drug task force to investigate any public official.” He turned on his heel and left my office. I recently reflected back on that incident and was frankly amazed I was rather blase` about Arnold’s directive. My indifferent attitude stemmed from being conditioned to Arnold’s sometimes crass behavior and illogical ideas when such a directive from him would not have been at all surprising. Then I recalled the time I wanted to prosecute a rape case after interviewing the victim.
I regularly prosecuted all municipal and juvenile cases and their appeals, but had to be specifically assigned any felony case by Arnold. When I asked him if I could file charges and prosecute the rapist, he immediately said, “absolutely not” and gave no further explanation until I pressed him. He jumped up from behind his desk and said, “Go get me an empty coke bottle.” I looked confused and he repeated his command, so I went to the office break room, got the bottle, and started back to his office, but he met me in our secretary’s office. He took the bottle, held it out toward me, started wiggling it around, and said, “now try to stick your finger in the hole.” I said, “Gary, what is your point?” He said, “It’s hard to hit a moving target. It takes cooperation from the female.” I was disgusted that he was our district prosecutor and my boss. Still I thought he refused to allow me to file the charges because the rapist was the victim’s ex-boyfriend and the case would be too hard to prosecute. However, a couple of years later, my feelings became even more cynical toward Arnold’s sentiment about any rape case.
In December of 1990, Arnold dropped the ball in a case where a 16-year-old deaf girl was raped by the 37-year-old son of a court reporter. The circumstances of that case was reported by The Benton Courier in a September 6, 1991 article Stuart’s DNA matched that in the semen found on the little girl, which positively identified Stuart as the rapist. Arnold, however, did not provide the DNA test results to Stuart’s defense attorney in time for proper trial preparation, so the case was dismissed. That unfortunate slip-up might be forgiven under circumstances where the prosecutor was working under a time-crunch deadline, but in this case, Arnold had two years to comply – TWO YEARS! This was either gross incompetence or dirty dealing , and in my opinion, either or both are plausible explanations for Arnold letting this rapist get off.
I knew he was anxious to please the district’s political hierarchy, but it still came as a surprise when I realized he was doing everything he could to cause me to fail as task force director. Those who remember the media smear campaign against me will recall Dan Harmon was the source of the hateful and viscous lies being printed. That is a matter of public record. However, Gary Arnold’s insidious role in discrediting me made the battle to survive a losing one from the beginning.
It all started immediately after Arnold was unanimously over-ruled by the board and I was appointed task force administrator. Within a few days, Arnold sent me to an in-service meeting at the State Department of Finance and Administration to learn how to set up the books. Gordon Burton, Grants Administration Director, sent me back to Saline County with a message for Arnold that it was not possible for me to be the administrator and keep the books. Being task force administrator was a full-time job in itself, and then some.
According to DFA Administrator Jerry Duran, most task forces have a public agency with the city or county to keep the books, but for some reason, Arnold directed me to find a task force fiscal officer. Since this officer would be hired by the board and would be answerable to the board, I didn’t understand why Arnold was saddling me with the responsibility. He didn’t even let me know if he had given a public notice for the job vacancy, and he rejected the only suggestion I had. After a couple of weeks, I was approached by a court clerk who insisted her daughter, Kathy Evans, would be ideal. I submitted Evans’ name to Arnold and she was hired. Apparently, Arnold set me up to be the one who recommended Evans who was later discovered by my officers and I to be a “plant.”
Evans’ duties were to set up task force books, keep all the financial records, and manage the task force money. She went to a training workshop and was given charge of task force funds. Evans’ name appeared on the task force letter head stationery along with mine, and we were directly answerable to the board for our duties; not to each other. I was in charge of investigations and prosecutions of drug cases developed by the task force. I hired three full-time and four part-time undercover officers who were directly answerable to me. By the first of May, we were up and running.
Arnold was, by now, well established with the local political machine and was set up to run unopposed as a republican for a judgeship. Dan Harmon was set up to run unopposed as a democrat to take over Arnold’s position as prosecuting attorney. By June, Arnold was officially juvenile judge-elect and Harmon was officially the prosecutor-elect. By that time, however, my task force investigators had uncovered substantial evidence linking Harmon to local drug trafficking, so it was no surprise when Harmon launched a media smear campaign against me and my task force. And perhaps, he was also seeking revenge for my “betraying” his invitation to join the “good old boys” of Saline County.
The media’s cooperation with Harmon was startling. Back in 1988, Harmon cultivated the media while he was heading the county grand jury investigation of the “train deaths.” Circuit Judge John Cole appointed Harmon special prosecutor which gave him immediate access to and control of information as it developed. This, of course, is when witnesses began turning up dead, but no one connected that to Harmon at the time. Harmon also controlled the information that went out to the public through the media. He is a masterful manipulator and used a gullible media to make himself a folk hero for his hard work and dedication to the case. To this day, two of the reporters have not abandoned their support of Dan Harmon. They are Lynda Hollenbeck with the Benton Courier and Doug Thompson with the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette. (In 1990, Thompson wrote for the Democrat which bought out the Gazette in 1991.) Hollenbeck and Thompson were willing participants in Harmon’s smear campaign against me and my task force and neither reporter bothered to verify anything Harmon said; they just printed it – lie after lie, article after article – even when they knew Harmon was lying.
At first, I wasn’t too concerned about the negative publicity, because I was taking the information about Harmon and other public officials involved in drugs to Assistant U.S. Attorney Bob Govar. Govar had headed a grand jury probe into public official corruption in Saline County for a year, and the information my task force took him made his case stronger. Govar repeatedly assured me that indictments against Dan Harmon and other Saline County public officials were imminent. However, according to Govar, his boss, Chuck Banks, was holding him back even though Govar insisted he was ready to ask the grand jury for indictments and the grand jury was ready to give them. Govar was eventually removed from the investigation by Banks who took over and dismantled it. By December of 1990, I had been so discredited and brutalized by the media, Banks used me to justify shutting down Govar’s nearly two-year-long investigation. Bank’s held a news conference on June 27, 1991, and cleared “Harmon, his family and all Saline County public officials . . . of allegations of drug-related public misconduct and other forms of wrongdoing.” The Arkansas Gazette goes on to report Banks saying the allegations were based on rumors and innuendo and didn’t have merit. The article then quotes Harmon; “I regret . . . federal investigators listened to a crazy person like Jean Duffey.” Arkansas Gazette, June 28, 1991. The details of Govar’s investigation and Banks’ part in protecting Saline County officials from prosecution is the subject of The 1990 Federal Grand Jury Investigation. The part the media played in protecting Dan Harmon and other public officials is included in that report.
If I had known the smear campaign was going to be used by Banks to protect the public officials we investigated, I would not have sat back and depended on the promised federal indictments to clear my name. If I had it to do again, I would have aggressively defended myself against every lie from the very first article which was written by Doug Thompson the day after Dan Harmon became prosecutor-elect. Thompson reported Harmon saying, “There are more serious crimes than neglecting or abuse of an animal, yet that’s what she’d rather spend time prosecuting.” (He was, of course, referring to me.) Thompson called me for a response and I told him to simply check the municipal court dockets. Of the hundreds of cases I prosecuted, only two were animal related cases. Thompson, however, didn’t report my response or what the municipal court records clearly showed. Instead, he reported that I had founded the animal rights organization, Arkansas For Animals, which insinuated Harmon’s accusation was true. Thompson then reported Harmon’s further accusations that I “wasted task force money on automatic rifles and surveillance equipment that might be nice in New York City, but is not essential in rural Arkansas.” The truth is, our task force did not use weapons of any kind, and although we bought the bare essential surveillance equipment, most of what we needed was loaned to us by the Malvern Police Department. The equipment we did purchase was budgeted for and justified by Gary Arnold in his original application for funding that was approved by DFA. I showed Thompson the records, but he wasn’t interested in reporting the truth. He, in fact, reported, “Duffey, who was out of town on task force business Wednesday, could not be reached for comment” which was an outright, blatant lie. He did reach me, I did comment, and he lied about it. Arkansas Democrat, June 1, 1990. And so it went. That article was the first of an incredible string of irresponsible and unethical reporting by Thompson and Hollenbeck and outright lying by Thompson. I had always believed “truth is a defense against slander,” but the truth doesn’t help you if you can’t get it reported.
Hollenbeck and Thompson were not the only people Harmon manipulated. In September, I got a tip that the task force fiscal officer, Kathy Evans, and her mother had been meeting with Harmon. Early on, my task force officers were suspicious of Evans. She “snooped” into files and listened to conversations that didn’t have anything to do with her job. Evans did not have access to any reports or files on public officials since my officers and I decided to keep all such records away from the task force office. We turned everything over to Bob Govar for his federal grand jury investigation.
After investigating the tip about Evans, I learned Harmon had put her up to over-drafting the task force bank account and to forging my name on task force checks. Evans had unrealistic romantic interests in one of my task force officers who I asked to call Evans and find out what he could. Evans confessed she was cooperating with Harmon and even admitted she and her mother were regularly meeting with him. Evans told my officer they would “soon have enough” to get rid of me and Evans said Harmon had promised her she would have my job as soon as he took office as prosecutor. According to Evans, Harmon also promised her mother a position in his office.
While I was clambering around for information, I learned Evans used task force authorization to obtain fake driver’s licenses for herself and for my 17-year-old daughter. This was a misdemeanor criminal offense, which I reported to the Arkansas State Police and used it as an excuse to suspend Evans from the task force office. I took all of the fiscal files, books, and records I could find to the state prosecutor coordinator’s office, which immediately began helping us reconstruct the task force finances. After the state police interviewed me and they had already begun an investigation, Arnold wrote a letter requesting “an investigation by the Arkansas State Police as soon as possible.” He wrote, “a review of the financial records . . . by the Office of Intergovernmental Services indicates the possibility of theft, or at least unauthorized expenditures of Task Force funds.” Arnold, of course, did not bother to mention that I was the one who discovered the problem and that I had already taken steps to correct the situation and that I had already been talking with state police investigators. And, of course, he did not mention that Evans was under his direct supervision, not mine, or that he was directly responsible for confidential expenditures, not me. Evans had forged my signature to checks in the amount of nearly $4000 which had been cashed for confidential expenditures and drug buys. However, there was no record of the money after the checks were cashed. Arnold was directly accountable for the disbursement of these funds, and in fact, it was his signature on the Confidential Funds Certification, not mine. Yet, I was the one who was linked time after time in the media to “the missing $4000,” not Evans and not Arnold.
Arnold came to the prosecutor coordinator’ office the day I took the financial records up to be reconstructed. He was agitated, nervous, and rude. He was desperate to put the blame for Evans’ actions on me. Evans was claiming I told her to forge my name on those checks, which was as ridiculous, but not as absurd as Arnold ordering me to call Doug Thompson to tell him I authorized the overdrafts. I had asked for authorization for the bank to overdraft our very first check before our funding arrived so we could begin operating, but that was the one and only time I requested an overdraft and that was done in advance and with board approval. I was outraged at Arnold’s desperation and never had another civil conversation with him. It hit me like a ton of bricks, at that moment, Gary Arnold was doing more to destroy me than was Dan Harmon. I later saw Arnold explaining to Doug Thompson that the board was changing the structure of the task force. Arnold said they were hiring a field supervisor to be in charge of the officers and I would be in charge of the fiscal officer. That was such a stupid attempt to put the blame on me retroactively even Thompson didn’t print it.
I then began putting together all the things Arnold had done to hinder and discredit me and feed the media. He kept coming up with ridiculous reasons to shut down the task force weeks at a time. The first time was very early on when he claimed he wanted “to check if the task force officers have proper liability coverage.” My officers had been sworn in as deputy sheriff’s in the district and were covered under the sheriff departments’ insurance programs, which was the recommended procedure and was just how other task forces were insuring their officers. Arnold kept dragging his feet and finally, after two weeks, he allowed us to work again. He told me he was satisfied that our liability coverage was adequate, but he showed me no evidence whatsoever that he had done any research or checking on it during the two-week period he wouldn’t allow my officers to be on the streets. The next time Arnold shut us down was off and on for nearly a month after I fired one of my officers, Jim Lovette, for gross incompetence and negligence of duty documented in a two-page letter to Lovette’s personnel file (page 1 and page 2). The board upheld Lovette’s termination, but only after Arnold had the board conduct an exhaustive investigation of all Lovette’s lies and ridiculous allegations against me. One of the board members told me they knew early on Lovette was lying. Not surprisingly, Lovette was frequently seen with Dan Harmon thereafter.
Arnold also did things that were very deliberate to discredit me. One incident happened at the August task force board meeting. One of the board members and I rode with Arnold to the meeting which was in Grant County. Arnold didn’t mentioned a memo he had gotten from DFA until the meeting was underway and Doug Thompson was perched on the edge of his seat, pad and pencil in hand. If it sounds like I am insinuating the incident was planned, orchestrated, and choreographed, that is exactly what I am insinuating. When the meeting turned to new business, Arnold yanked a letter-size paper from his folder, waved it violently in my face, and said, “Just what is this hate letter all about.” I, of course, didn’t have a clue what this “hate letter” was all about until I read the paper which was a memorandum from the Department of Finance and Administration. The memo stated the task force was in danger of losing funding because we were delinquent in submitting two reports. One of the delinquent reports was a progress report for which I had been given an extension, and the other was a budget report which Kathy Evans was responsible for filing, and I knew nothing about that one.
I suggested the board take a break while I phoned DFA which, obviously, is what Arnold should have done himself before the meeting. During the break, a DFA secretary located both the budget report and the extension on the progress report in a misplaced file folder. When I explained DFA had sent the memo by mistake, Arnold was noticeably disappointed. Perhaps Doug Thompson was disappointed that he couldn’t use the so-called “hate letter” against me at that time, but he found a way to use it a month later by referring to it out of context and leaving off the part about the memo being sent in error. That entire article by Thompson is an amazing example of Thompson’s obvious attempt to discredit me with lies and twisted half truths. That article is discussed in detail in The State Police, the Media, and the Missing $4000.
The most devastating shut down was during the six-weeks-long investigation of task force finances by the state police. What should have been an investigation of Kathy Evans, was an investigation of every computer file, every paper file, every case record, every narcotics buy, every confidential informant report – every move my task force officers and I had ever made. This was no investigation of a fiscal officer who was stealing from the task force – this was clearly a snooping expedition that had nothing to do with fiscal misconduct. Fortunately, my task force officers and I were not keeping files on public officials at the task force office, so the state police did not find what they were looking for. Even though it was Arnold’s intentions to keep us from operating during those long weeks, my officers went right on working but were not given money to make drug buys. My officers stayed in touch with their informants and continued to develop new information. This was in spite of Arnold’s directive to them to “take a paid vacation.”
Arnold also used the investigation to provide the media with ammunition – Doug Thompson in particular. Arnold ordered me to not speak with the media, yet he was more than cooperative in providing them with information that sometimes needed explanations, and I was not allowed to give it. For example, under Freedom of Information, (FOI) Thompson got a copy of a report talking about Lovette’s botched drug surveillance buy. The report had Lovette’s name blacked out, and Thompson reported the incident without explaining I had already fired Lovette for his conduct. Thompson’s report insinuated I still had this officer working for me.
Speaking of FOI, I found it interesting when the district’s state senator, Charlie Cole Chaffin, expedited an opinion from the state attorney general to determine if Doug Thompson and other reporters could attend task force board meetings. Chaffin is Circuit Judge John Cole’s sister and a long-time and enthusiastic supporter of Dan Harmon. In 1991, Harmon was jailed by a federal judge for refusing to submit to a drug test as a standard condition for release after a plea appearance on federal tax charges. Chaffin rallied to Harmon’s defense and gave him a public cheer while she was speaking at the opening of a community center. Although the Benton Courier article of September 7, 1991, makes it sound like several hundred people cheered for Harmon, the truth is the crowd responded to Chaffin’s enthusiasm for the Constitution. When Chaffin mentioned Harmon, there was less response from the crowd. This article is typical of how politicians and the media manipulate the public.
The state police investigation of the task force finances was such an incredible sham, it is a story all to itself and is the subject of The State Police, the Media, and the Missing $4000. The story includes documents from the investigation including Evans’ interview in which she admits to forging my signature on checks amounting to the missing funds. After a six-weeks-long investigation where there is an admission, documentation, and corroboration that Kathy Evans was stealing from the task force, the state police claims its investigation was “inconclusive.” Bottom line – the investigation did not turn up a hint of any illegal or improper action on my part, so their investigation was a wash. Evans was not prosecuted for anything, not even for illegally obtaining fake driver’s license for herself and my daughter. Since Evans was clearly being protected from prosecution, my daughter was also not prosecuted. I’m sure otherwise, she would have been charged and it would have made headlines. The state police investigation of my task force is typical of how the state police has participated in covering up Saline County corruption. A 2000-page state police file is the subject of The State Police Investigation and reveals their participation in that cover-up.
It is absolutely amazing to me now to look back and realize the things my task force officers and I were able to accomplish in the short time we were allowed to operate and under such adverse circumstances. We linked Dan Harmon and other public officials in the Seventh Judicial District to the source of much of the drug trade, but we were never allowed to present the evidence to the federal grand jury. I was fired as task force administrator and deputy prosecutor on November 9, Arnold sent me a letter of termination on November 16, 1990, stating “the basis for termination was unsatisfactory performance.” Actually, the incredible amount of adverse publicity was what the board discussed as the reason I was being fired. The board members felt I had “become ineffective” because of the media smear campaign. “Unsatisfactory performance” was Arnold’s words. Arnold goes on to cite all the financial problems as “among the reasons cited by one or more board members” for my termination, but was careful to say “not all board members voiced all the reasons listed.” I, in fact, don’t recall any board member other than Arnold who thought I was responsible for Evans’ actions. Additionally, Arnold includes “failure to avoid confrontations with individual board members” as a reason for being fired. Besides being confrontational with Arnold, I had words with Saline County Sheriff Larry Davis, who later became one of Dan Harmon’s task force officers, and with Hot Spring County Sheriff Doyle Cook, who quit the board when he found out my task force was investigating him. The details of Davis and Cook are in The 1990 Federal Grand Jury Investigation. The reasons for having confrontations with Arnold, Davis, and Cook were obviously because they were in conflict with the task force doing its job, and I refused to pretend otherwise.
Gary Arnold has been the Seventh Judicial District Juvenile Judge since January 1, 1991. Of all the elected positions, a juvenile judgeship is the worst position for an incompetent or corrupt official to hold because the proceedings are closed to the public. I hope the people of the district will encourage someone with integrity to run against Arnold in the next elections for juvenile judge which, unfortunately, will not be for another two years. Gary Arnold is only one of the elected officials who need to be voted out of office, but you begin a journey by taking one step at a time. The voters of Saline County had the opportunity to rid itself of Dan Harmon this past May, by handing him a resounding defeat. That was a good first step.
© Jean Duffey 1996