A lawsuit claims that attorneys at the state’s attorney’s office have been abusing their powers and violating the constitutional rights of a client
Posted On July 29, 2021
Arkansas attorney-client privilege is being used to allow Arkansas state employees to refuse to assist the investigation into the death of James Boyd, a black man who was killed by an Arkansas state trooper while stopped in April 2016, according to a lawsuit filed in the state supreme court.
The lawsuit alleges that state employee William J. Ritchie, a longtime state employee, refused to assist a probe by the attorney general’s office into the trooper’s use of force against Boyd.
The suit, filed by the Arkansas Bar Association, the NAACP Legal Defense Fund, the ACLU of Arkansas, and the Arkansas Prosecuting Attorneys Association, names Arkansas attorney general Tom Clements, assistant state attorney general John P. Kaczinski, and former Arkansas State Police trooper Jeffrey G. Hartwig.
Ritter, Hartwig, and Clements have not responded to requests for comment.
“State attorneys are in a legal grey area when it comes to handling these investigations,” said John J. Miller, president of the Arkansas NAACP Legal Defence Fund, in a statement.
“This is a clear violation of the state constitution, which guarantees an independent judiciary to oversee the investigation of a police officer’s death.”
In a statement to the Associated Press, Clements said that “state attorneys do not engage in partisan politics and that they are fully committed to fair and impartial investigation.”
Clements also said that Hartwig was fired and replaced by Ritter after the lawsuit was filed.
“The investigation into this case was conducted by a neutral, independent, independent agency that included the chief of the law enforcement agency, the police chief, and representatives of the police chiefs association and the prosecutor’s office,” Clements stated.
“As a result of the independent investigation, we found no wrongdoing by Mr. Hartwick or the officers involved in this case.”
Ritchie was indicted on a felony charge of obstruction of justice for refusing to cooperate with the investigation, according the lawsuit.
The Arkansas Bar, which represents state attorneys general, does not have the power to compel an attorney-correspondent to answer a lawsuit, according a spokesperson.
A spokesperson for Clements declined to comment on the suit.
Hartzig’s attorney, James E. Haines, declined to discuss the lawsuit or Ritter’s conduct in an interview with the Associated Statesman.
“I think he should be allowed to pursue his own case,” Hainess told the AP.
“It’s really not my place to comment.”
Hainss said that he has never met Hartwig and had never been told about the incident in which Hartwig had refused to answer questions from the Arkansas bar, which he said is investigating the death.
He said he did not know about Hartwig’s employment with the state attorney’s offices before he met with the AP in October.
Hartzikig, who was a sergeant with the Arkansas State Patrol at the time of Boyd’s death, faces up to five years in prison and a $250,000 fine for obstructing a grand jury investigation.