An accusation has been lodged against Dean Elliott, the Dillard’s lobbyist and former state representative who is running for the District 15 seat in the state Senate, by a woman who claims that he was involved in a 2016 hit and run incident on Tennyson Drive in Conway that left her with severe injuries.
Elliott denies any wrongdoing. A lawyer representing him suggested the accusation could be politically motivated. The woman who told police that she believed Elliott hit her with his car is married to a Conway lobbyist who supports Elliott’s Republican primary opponent, Mark Johnson. No Democrat is running for the seat vacated by Sen. David Sanders.
Elliott was dropping Misty Murphey (now Misty Phillips) off near her home after attending a Luke Bryan concert together in 2016. Phillips got out of the vehicle after a heated conversation. What happened next is in dispute — there were no witnesses — but Phillips gave statements to police this year indicating that she believed that Elliott hit her with his car and then left the scene. After conducting a new investigation into the incident this year, police recently passed on an updated case file to the prosecutor’s office, which is still under review. No charges have yet been filed.
The initial incident report, created by the Conway Police Department on the day of the incident, March 11, 2016, suggested that Phillips fell while walking home after being dropped off, and hurt herself when she hit the asphalt. That first report does not mention Elliott, and Phillips did not seek to press charges at that time. Two years later, March 2018, Phillips went back to the police seeking to give further information about that night — which led the police to launch an investigation.
Robert Newcomb, an attorney for Elliott, said that Elliott had given Phillips a ride home because she was too intoxicated to drive home. He said that she asked to be dropped off prior to arriving at her home, Elliott did so, and that he did not see what happened next. Newcomb said there was reason to be concerned that aspects of these allegations — and the involvement of a county sheriff — are politically motivated. He argued that if there had been evidence of a hit and run that night in 2016, the Conway police would have investigated at the time.
Whatever happened that night, Phillips — who works as a personal assistant to the First Lady Susan Hutchinson and is now the wife of Conway lobbyist Bradley Phillips — suffered serious injuries. She had several teeth knocked out and scattered in the road, and according to later statements to the police, had serious injuries to her face, jaw, lower back and right knee.
Reached for comment, Phillips stated, “It is my understanding that this incident is under investigation. I gave my statements to the Conway Police Department. I have no further comment at this time.”
The initial two-paragraph report from 2016 was acquired by Freedom of Information request. The investigation was re-opened two years later, on March 14, 2018, when Phillips returned to the Conway Police Department to provide additional information, stating that she believed that her injuries had not been due to a fall, but had been caused by a collision with a car, which she suspected was driven by Elliott. Conway Police Public Information Officer LaTresha Woodruff confirmed this but would not provide the new updates to the incident report because it is still an active investigation. However, the Arkansas Times recently acquired a copy of an updated report by Conway Police on the matter, with 12 pages of supplemental notes.
The police have wrapped up their own investigation and passed their report to the Faulkner County Prosecuting Attorney for review, Woodruff said. Prosecuting Attorney Luke Ferguson on Monday confirmed that his office received the report around two weeks prior and that it was under review, but would otherwise not comment on the case. Such reviews typically take a few weeks, Ferguson said.
According to the updated incident report acquired by the Arkansas Times, Phillips met Elliott for drinks a little more than two years ago at Samantha’s Tap Room and Wood Grill in Little Rock and then went to the Luke Bryan concert along with another friend. At this time, according to the report, Phillips and Elliott were “pursuing a casual, potentially romantic relationship” and had gone on a few dates (Newcomb, however, said “there was not a dating relationship”).
After the concert, Elliott drove Phillips back to Conway, where she lives, in his white Mercedes sedan. She told police that she had a “couple of drinks” at the concert, decided that she shouldn’t drive, and asked him to take her home, leaving her own vehicle at Samantha’s. Phillips told police that on the drive, Elliott became irate because he suggested that she had been leading him on and declined to hold hands with him during the show. She said that it was like a “switch flipped.” She said that Elliott yelled at her, calling her a “bitch” and saying, “You used me for tickets to the concert!” She told police that he was driving erratically and she became panicked and scared. She felt unsafe, she said, and as they got closer to her home, she asked to be let out of the car so that she could walk the rest of the way. Elliott let her out on Tyler Street near her subdivision.
Elliott disputes this account. According to Newcomb, Elliott gave her a ride home because Phillips had become extremely intoxicated during the concert (they had enjoyed the concert from a box that had an open bar, he said). Elliott himself “had a couple of drinks, but was not intoxicated,” Newcomb said. “Even though she had been in a separate car, he felt she was not in a condition to drive.” On the drive, according to Elliott, Phillips became more and more agitated as they got closer to her home. She said that she did not want him driving her to her home and dropping her off. She asked to be let out, and Elliott did so.
What happened after she was let out to walk the rest of the way home? The narrative conveyed in the initial report in 2016 is very different than the narrative in the 2018 report, created after Phillips returned to the police.
The reporting officer in 2016 responded to a 911 call placed by two women who found Phillips after she was on the ground. The officer reported that Phillips “stated she had been drinking and she only remembered being on the ground and seeing her teeth on the asphalt road.” According to the officer, emergency medical responders stated that it appeared she sustained her injuries from falling. Phillips was sent to the Conway Regional ER. “It was believed that [Phillips] was walking home when she fell forward hitting her knee and mouth on the asphalt,” the report concludes.
There is no indication that there was further investigation beyond the officer’s initial response to the 911 call, and the case was inactive until Phillips returned in March of 2018, stating that “clarification was needed in the report since some of the documentation was inaccurate,” according to the report.
When she returned to the police, over the course of two interviews, Phillips gave officers a detailed account of her memories of that evening two years earlier. When Elliott drove off after letting her out, she began walking home, she told police. She said that Elliott then called her on her phone. While on the phone with him, according to the police report: “she said she remembered suddenly feeling an ‘impact.’ She said she vaguely remembered seeing the headlights of Dean’s car just as she was being struck by the car. She said she recalled hearing a ‘crushing’ sound.”
Shortly thereafter, two women driving by stopped to help her — Phillips apparently lost consciousness and this is the next thing she remembers. At this point, she was lying on the ground. According to Phillips, Elliott was in his car nearby and yelling when the young women pulled up, but he then drove away.
The two young women helped her up and called 911. They found a piece of a vehicle nearby, according to Phillips, which appeared to be part of a headlight. She told them that she just wanted to go home but they told her she was in no condition, saying that she “had no teeth.” They helped her pick up her teeth, which were scattered on the ground near where she had been found. According to Phillips, her phone rang and it was Elliott; one of the women helping her answered the phone and told him that Phillips had been hit by a car. In Phillips’ recollection, the woman asked him, “what happened to her, did you hit her?”
According to Phillips, the two women argued with the officer when he arrived. He insisted that she had fallen because of intoxication, causing her injuries, while they contended that she had been hit by a car. When they presented the piece of the car, he said it was “road debris.” Phillips said that the officer would get further statements from her at the hospital, but did not do so.
When the investigation was made active again in 2018, the police contacted both of the two witnesses who had arrived at the scene after Phillips was already injured on the ground. In separate interviews, the women described the event, which they remembered well — as one put it, “because it so rare of an incident.” They both said that they remembered a white four-door Mercedes sedan driving away as they approached and then saw Phillips lying on the roadway (one expressed confidence to police about knowing the model of the car because she used to own a white Mercedes herself and her husband used to own a body shop). They did not see the driver of this vehicle. When they spoke with Phillips, she was disoriented, whether because of shock or intoxication. One of the witnesses described speaking with an adult male that called Phillips’s phone and having a heated conversation with him — he said that he had dropped her off on Tyler Street after an argument and wanted to make sure she got home okay. The woman told him that he needed to come back and apologize. The same woman who spoke with him on the phone recalled that Phillips told them that she thought she had been hit with a car, and kept saying, “It’s OK, it’s OK, it’s not his fault.” The witnesses confirmed Phillips’ account that they attempted to show the officer a piece of a headlight but the officer said it was “road debris.” One recounted that the officers “were not interested in what we had to say.”
The officers who responded to the incident in 2016 were also interviewed as part of the new investigation. One recounted that Phillips was “extremely intoxicated and could not remember exactly what had happened.” The officer said that Phillips said at the time that she wasn’t sure how she ended up getting her teeth knocked out and that she guessed she had fallen. He did not recall being shown the piece of the vehicle. The other officer, who no longer works with the department, had little memory of the incident but recounted a broadly similar story, that he believed at the time that she was intoxicated and fell.
Newcomb argues that it strains credulity that there was evidence of a hit and run once the officers arrived at the scene, given their response. “I find it hard to believe that the officers were told that night on the scene that there was a hit and run with injury, and they would have just written it up as an informational report,” he said. “Conway Police Department is a well-run department. They’re not going to just sort of blow off a hit-and-run accident. I just find it implausible that an officer would ignore that — in most departments I’m aware of, they would be looking at a 30-day suspension, if not being fired. He would have no reason to ignore it. They would have had their crime scene people out there looking for evidence, the detectives would have done the followup investigation to come out there and see what they could find, they would have gotten the medical records released at that point in time. The officer would have had somebody at the hospital.
“Both [the officer] and MEMS [emergency medical responders] felt that she had fallen, and that was consistent with what they found at the time,” Newcomb said.
Once she was taken to the hospital, according to Phillips’ account, Elliott left her a “nonchalant sounding voicemail” stating that he wanted to make sure she had made it home OK. Phillips stated that she called Elliott and told him that she had been hit by a car. The updated police report states: “Misty said she had felt all along that Dean was the one who hit her with his car. She said she asked him several times if he had hit her with his car. She told him that she did not think he would have hit her on purpose and that maybe he had hit her on accident.” Phillips told police that Elliott consistently denied hitting her but admitted to coming back after dropping her off, seeing her on the ground, and leaving.
Phillips asked Elliott to drive her home from the hospital. She told police that she secretly wanted to see if there was any damage to his car; however, he had driven a different vehicle to pick her up, a Ford Expedition. Phillips told police she asked why he had switched from the Mercedes he had been driving earlier in the night, and he said that it was out of gas so he had gone to his house in Maumelle to get the Expedition. Elliott then dropped her off and Phillips did not hear from him after that. She said she texted him a few days later to say she was surprised he hadn’t been in touch, and Elliott apologized, saying he had been sick and was now out of town in D.C. After that, they lost contact.
Elliott’s own account, according to Newcomb, is simply that she called from him the hospital to pick her up and he did so. The Mercedes was low on gas and he decided it didn’t make sense to stop and fill up on his way from Maumelle to Conway, so he took a different vehicle. Newcomb reiterated that after Elliott dropped her off the first time in Conway, he drove straight home and never saw what happened next.
The updated police report states:
Misty said she had told her close family and friends about the incident just after it happened. She told them that she was certain that Dean was the one who had hit her with his car. Misty said she never followed up with the police department about the incident and just tried not to think about it. She said after Dean filed to run for state Senate, a friend of hers was enraged about what Dean had done and encouraged them not to support Dean’s campaign. When Misty learned of this, she knew she had to speak out about what Dean had done. She and her husband obtained a copy of the police report and learned that there were errors in the report and her allegations. She said this was why she had wanted to come to CPD to correct the report and clarify what had happened.
Phillips provided police with her medical records (these records are not included in the report obtained by the Arkansas Times). She told police that she had to have extensive oral and reconstructive surgery on her mouth and jaw and had a large hematoma on her lower back that a doctor at Sherwood Urgent Care said was caused by “a direct impact” (she said X-rays of her back were not taken when she was at Conway Regional and she went to Sherwood Urgent Care to have it checked out a few days later). Her husband stated that the doctor who had done $25,000 of surgery on her face would likewise provide a statement of his opinion that the injuries were not sustained from a fall. She has also had therapy for PTSD.
The police report states:
She cried some during the interview when talking about not being strong enough then to follow through with the report at that time, due to fear. She felt that her life would be ruined, because of the political connections that Elliott has. She said she was ‘raised not to cause problems and just take care of it yourself, walk the line, be a woman.’ She did not want to believe that Elliott was ‘capable of hitting somebody and leaving them.’
When the case became active again this year, police investigated Elliott’s white Mercedes, according to the police report (this was also confirmed by the Conway Police public information officer). Police spoke with Elliott’s ex-wife (in March 2016 they were living separately but still doing things together as a family). She did not recall seeing any damage to the Mercedes at the time, but she found text messages she had exchanged with her husband on March 15, 2016, referencing repairs to getting a “spot on the bumper” fixed. His ex-wife told police it was not out of character for him to drink and drive; the police report states “she thinks he has influence in Faulkner County and would want to try to cover up any wrongdoing.”
Police inspected the white Mercedes in the parking lot outside Elliott’s office at Dillard’s. The officer noted that the height of the side mirror matched the location of Phillips’ back injury that he had previously measured from the ground. The officer reported:
It is possible for the mirror to strike a person in the same general area where [Phillips] was struck. The vehicle would have narrowly miss[ed] striking her legs, if this is the vehicle that struck struck her and if his is how the accident occured. …
We located a small dent on the passenger door adjacent to the passenger mirror. The dent appeared to likely be from the mirror being pushed into the door.
Further investigation mentioned in the report did not identify evidence of repairs or insurance claims on the car. Newcomb argued that this was a key point: “The lack of any damage to the car — there’s no confirmation that there was a mirror that had to be replaced.”
After examining his car in the parking lot, the police then contacted Elliott by phone on April 2, according to the police report. He told them he had heard about the allegations against him. He said there had been no significant damage or repairs to the Mercedes. He said that he would call back to schedule an interview, with a lawyer present, and let the police further examine the vehicle. According to the police report, as of April 25, he did not get back in touch.
Newcomb said that, while he had no communications with the prosecuting attorney, he was confident that no charges would be filed. “I don’t see any credible evidence to support it,” he said.
He said that the Conway Police did what they had to do in responding to Phillips coming to them this year. “They were handed an issue that — if they failed to go and get an investigation, they would have been criticized for trying to do a coverup,” he said. “I think it’s fair to say that Conway PD has done a thorough investigation.” He added, “Look at what they did two years later — what do you think they would have done that night if they had really been told that there was a hit and run?”
Newcomb argued that the allegations at this time, when Elliott is running for office, suggested to him “how much politics has become the practice of personal destruction.”
The possibility that the allegations are colored by political motivations “can’t be dismissed,” he said. “Nothing is said until he announces that he’s going to run.”
Newcomb said that he was particularly concerned about the involvement of Faulkner County Sheriff Tim Ryals. According to the police report, one of the witnesses told police during her interview on March 27 that Ryals had contacted her about two weeks previously, wanting to ask about the 911 call. She told Ryals what she had witnessed. That call would have been right around the time Phillips herself went to Conway police to tell her story.
“From what I understand, Mr. Ryals has endorsed [Mark Johnson, Elliott’s opponent in the Republican primary] and appeared in ads,” Newcomb said. “He contributes money to Mr. Johnson, he’s on a flier or mailer endorsing him. Why is he calling witnesses in a Conway case?” While Ryals has the authority to do so, such an action by the sheriff would be highly unusual, Newcomb said. “I find that strange,” he said. “I saw some politics in this. It smells.”
“Mrs. Phillips’ husband was the sheriff’s political consultant,” Newcomb added. “I don’t know what relationship he may have with Mr. Johnson.”
Bradley Phillips said that he had done unpaid volunteer work for Ryals in two previous election cycles but was not doing so this time (Ryals is running unopposed), and has never been paid by Ryals for campaign work. He said that Johnson had been a family friend for more than 30 years and he was strongly backing him in his election against Elliott, but he had no role with the campaign and had not donated any money to the campaign. Phillips said that his father, the lobbyist Bill Phillips, held a fundraiser for Johnson at his house this year (Bill Phillips gave the maximum individual contribution to Johnson’s campaign). Bradley Phillips said that he would have been supporting Johnson wholly aside from the alleged incident involving Elliott and his wife, but that the knowledge of that incident naturally intensified his family’s feelings about this election. “Dean Elliott does not belong in the state senate,” he said.
Newcomb said that he had been asked by Elliott to look into the possibility of civil litigation, including against Ryals and Bradley Phillips. He said that he had not been retained at this time to defend Elliott in any potential criminal matter because no charges have been filed and Newcomb believes it is unlikely that will happen.