Following a Monday hearing before a Faulkner County circuit judge, speed trap sanctions against the Damascus Police Department will remain in effect through December.
“I am disappointed but not surprised by this ruling,” Damascus City Attorney Beau Wilcox told the Log Cabin minutes after Circuit Judge Chris R. Carnahan denied the city’s request to have the sanctions lifted. “We knew this was going to be an uphill battle from the very beginning and have been operating under these sanctions for the past 15 months.”
The small town was labeled a speed trap in February 2017 by former 20th Judicial District Prosecuting Attorney Cody Hiland. The city was found in violation of the Arkansas speed trap statute because the city’s revenues from traffic-related fines exceeded 30 percent of the city’s expenditures for each of the two previous years.
Thirty percent of revenues is one of two ways a city can be deemed a speed trap, per the statute — a city can also be found at fault if more than 50 percent of its tickets are for violations less than 10 mph over the speed limit. Damascus was not found in violation of the 10 mph term.
Hiland ordered in May 2017 that the city of Damascus cease patrolling “all affected highways within the jurisdictional limits of the city.” Following Luke Ferguson’s appointment into the 20th Judicial District prosecuting attorney’s position, he moved to uphold Hildand’s ruling.
Since the sanctions were imposed against the city’s police department, officials have battled unsuccessfully in court to have the sanctions lifted.
A final evidentiary hearing was held Monday in Faulkner County Circuit Court after Wilcox argued the data used in determining the city was in violation of state speed trap laws was skewed.
Assistant Attorney General William C. Bird III argued on the state’s behalf, stating prosecutors used information and data provided by city officials. More so, while Damascus officials argued that non-traffic related statistics were included in the initial data provided by Arkansas State Police to those investigating this matter, Bird said it was clear the city violated the Arkansas Speed Trap Law because “after looking at the data, the city says they were at fault for the first year” included within the investigative data.
Reviewing data displayed largely before the court Monday on a canvas board, Bird showed court officials discrepancies in the numbers argued the City of Damascus.
The amounts the city argued did not include all amounts collected via traffic violations, Bird said.
Wilcox argued the definitions of what — when determining a city is at fault of the Arkansas Speed Trap Law — constitutes as a traffic violation, noting he believed the court found itself in an “uncomfortable position” and needed to figure out if the data requested by investigators “is fair and current.”
Also, how was it possible for the small town to be in violation one year and not the next, he asked Judge Carnahan.
At the end of the day, Carnahan maintained that previous rulings that found the Damascus Police Department had abused its police power and violated the Arkansas Speed Trap Law would remain the final order.
Because the sanctions set in place were to remain in effect through Hiland’s term, they are set to expire at the end of the year.
Beginning in January, the city’s police force will once again begin to patrol all highways within Damascus city limits.