I overlooked a news item last week with multiple angles about the potential ills of small-town policing.
It was the indictment of Gerald Ray Goza, former police chief of Egypt, a tiny town in Craighead County.
The indictment, released Thursday, said Goza, 55, had been drawing Social Security disability checks since August 2015 though he was employed during that period. One count of a three-count indictment said he:
…submitted a “Continuing Disability Review Report” to the Social Security Administration stating that he had not worked since the date of his last medical disability decision from the agency, when he knew such statement was false because he had been employed as the chief of police for the city of Egypt, Arkansas.
So that’s bad. But it’s not the whole story. Feb. 13, Prosecuting Attorney Scott Ellington of Jonesboro had issued this news release:
I was made aware yesterday, Wednesday, February 12, 2020 that Egypt Police Chief Gerald Goza was removed from service by the Arkansas Commission on Law Enforcement Standards and Training (CLEST) on January 9, 2020 for failure to meet minimum standards for law enforcement in the State of Arkansas.
Additionally, it has come to my attention that Goza may have continued to act as a law enforcement officer since that time, despite him receiving notice from CLEST that he had been removed from service for certification deficiencies. At no point in time until the afternoon of February 12 was my office ever made aware of either of these points.
As such, my office is formally requesting the following:
1. That any and all criminal cases arising from arrests made or citations issued by Goza and/or the Egypt Police Department be dismissed. Had I known before yesterday that Goza had been removed from service by CLEST in January, I would have immediately moved to dismiss said cases.
2. That CLEST decertify Goza as a certified law enforcement officer in the State of Arkansas for failure to meet minimum standards and for continuing to act as a law enforcement officer after his official removal by CLEST as of January 9, 2020.
I place the integrity of public safety as an utmost priority, and will take appropriate action as necessary under the circumstances.
So you had an unqualified police chief making arrests while drawing disability checks.,
But wait. There’s more.
Last week, a federal lawsuit was filed against Goza and other officials in Egypt by Stephen Warren, a former city laborer.
Warren’s suit alleges that he had noticed Goza making an “inordinate’ number of traffic stops for a city of 112 people. The suit said the police have jurisdiction over about a mile of highway in Egypt. He also said he’d heard complaints about Goza’s treatment of citizens and those passing through.
When Plaintiff began to ask [Mayor Jerry] Cook about Goza’s qualifications to hold his position, Cook warned the Plaintiff that there would be trouble for both Plaintiff and Plaintiffs friends if he chose to continue to question or press the issue regarding any information about the City Police Department, or Goza’s qualifications.
Warren’s suit said that when it became clear he intended to go public with allegations, Cook and City Clerk/Recorder Velva Joy Lingo began a harassment campaign against him. He said that included talking about having him involuntarily committed.
When Warren went to city hall to get his final paycheck and request public documents from Lingo, he said she refused to provide the records and called 911 to report there was a man in city hall “making a scene.” He said Lingo talked with Goza by phone and soon two county deputies arrived. They asked him about his business and why he wanted the information. Warren said he didn’t have to give a reason.
A bit later, Goza arrived. After a period in Lingo’s office, he came out and arrested Warren for disorderly conduct. Warren said Goza handled him roughly and impounded his vehicle, though it was in a public parking space. Warren contends Goza couldn’t arrest him on a misdemeanor charge for action he hadn’t witnessed. By the suit’s account, Goza said the mayor wanted him arrested. Warren said he was taken to the county lockup, strip-searched and jailed. Said the suit:
Goza told the Craighead County Jail Booking officials to “keep him as long as possible, we have a city council meeting tonight and we don’t want him showing up for that.”
Plaintiff was not allowed to contact anyone to arrange for his release until 4:45 p.m., and was only allowed to make a collect call.
He paid $205 to bond out. Later that evening, he had an encounter with Goza when he went on a bicycle ride. They exchanged words. According to the suit, Goza arrested him twice more, taking back the first, but taking him to the jail again on the second. Goza allegedly reported the arrest to Cook. Said Warren:
According to texts and calls provided to Plaintiff under FOIA requests, Cook then texted Lingo and reported “Steve been arrested and taken to jail again” to which she replied “YAHOO!!”
Warren spent the night in jail because they wouldn’t accept his debit card for the bond. Afterward, Warren said the harassment continued.
An Ex-Parte, immediate NO CONTACT order was issued against Plaintiff on September 3, 2019.
The No Contact Order prohibited Plaintiff from having guns in his possession, from consuming alcohol, and from coming within 100 yards of Lingo.
Plaintiff was thereafter unable to make any lawful FOIA requests, to attend any City Council meetings, and could not obtain any information he had already requested prior to and on August 13, 2019.
Warren said Cook and Lingo began trying to bargain a solution after he filed a Freedom of Information Act lawsuit. When he dismissed the lawsuit, the disorderly conduct charges were dismissed.
Warren contends all the actions were intended to protect revenue flowing from police ticketing.
The lawsuit claims federal and state civil rights violations and violation of the federal law protecting the disabled. Warren said he is dyslexic and has impaired hearing. He also alleges defamation, assault and battery, false arrest, abuse of process and infliction of emotional distress. The suit seeks actual and punitive damages from the defendants, including the city.