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Saturday, June 25, 2016

Jury rules in favor of Sharp County

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

File Photo The scene of a 2007 incident in Highland in which James Naldo Arnold was accidentally shot by Arkansas State Police Agent Wendall Jines in an attempt to serve an arrest warrant on him. Sharp County was later sued for the hospital bills incurred by Arnold. Dec. 7, the county won the case as a jury determined the county was not responsible for Arnold's medical bills totaling nearly $19,000.
Nearly four years after an accidental shooting injured a Highland man while he was attempting to escape a State Police agent, a jury of seven men and five women quickly decided Sharp County was not responsible for the nearly $19,000 in medical bills the man incurred at White River Medical Center as a result of the shooting.

The case was heard Dec. 7 by Judge Tim Weaver in Independence County, where the hospital is based. The suit stemmed from a Feb. 9, 2007 case in which Arkansas State Police Special Agent Wendall Jines accidentally shot James Naldo Arnold of Highland during an attempt to serve an arrest warrant on him.

Jines was first to testify for the plaintiff, White River Medical Center. He told the jury Arnold escaped out a separate entrance to the home when he announced himself and attempted to serve the warrant. Jines said Arnold then started his vehicle and attempted to run over him. This incident later resulted in attempted capital murder and felony fleeing charges.

During the pursuit, Jines told the jury he was able to fire his service weapon and deflate first a front tire and, after jumping out of the way of the moving truck, also managed to hit the back tire of Arnold's vehicle. A short time later, Jines said, while maintaining contact with dispatch via an open cell phone connection, he chased Arnold in his vehicle and witnessed his left tire disintegrate. The truck ended up in a ditch with the door pinned, preventing Arnold from opening the door. Jines said he positioned his car against the other door to prevent Arnold from escaping. Arnold then kicked out the side window and ran barefoot in the cold weather in an attempt to flee. Shortly after the foot chase ensued, Jines' weapon accidentally discharged, striking Arnold in the side. Shortly thereafter, Sharp County officer Tim McComas arrived and assisted Jines in cuffing Arnold. McComas was nearby at the time of the incident and came to help Jines, after hearing what was going on through dispatch. McComas testified Jines had Arnold contained on the ground when he arrived and said he only helped secure him in the handcuffs prior to Arnold being transported by Spring River Paramedic Ambulance Service.

McComas rode in the ambulance with Arnold to ensure the safety of the medical professionals. State Police policy requires any officer involved in a shooting to remain at the scene until a supervisor can arrive to speak with the officer involved. Jines remained at the scene until his immediate supervisor Stan Witt arrived. The defense established this as the reason McComas, rather than Jines, rode with Arnold to the hospital.

The case was dependent upon either side proving, "by the preponderance of evidence," whose custody Arnold was in at the time the medical bill was incurred by the hospital. Attorney Jim Gramling, who represented the hospital, claimed that since Arnold was cuffed, escorted and "guarded" at the hospital by Sharp County deputies, he was, in fact, in the custody of the county when the medical bills, including surgery and a four day stay at the facility, plus medications, were incurred as a result of the shooting by the state police.

Plaintiff witnesses included Jines, McComas, Laura Davis, director of patient accounts for White River Medical Center and State Police Captain Stan Witt, who was Jines supervisor at the time of the incident. The plaintiff presented itemized hospital bills totaling $18,132.00 as evidence, as well as nurses' notes.

Attorney Ralph Ohm represented the county. Called to the witness stand to testify on behalf of the defense was Sharp County Sheriff Dale Weaver. Six key pieces of evidence were used to support the case for the county, which ultimately led to the decision that the County is not required to pay the bill in question.

Evidence included an Intake Procedures Policy used by the Sharp County Jail. This piece of evidence outlined the county's policy for taking in prisoners.

The document states prisoners cannot be jailed if they are not in medically sound condition. This prevents liabilities to the jail and county as a result of sick or injured inmates.

This policy was used as evidence that, even if Arnold had been brought to the jail, rather than to the hospital after the shooting, he would not have been accepted as a prisoner due to his gunshot wound.

The second piece of evidence presented by Ohm was the warrant Jines attempted to serve. Ohms also established Sharp County deputies had no prior knowledge of Jines' attempt to serve the Iroquois County, Illinois, warrant on Arnold for possession and manufacture of methamphetamine, as well as failure to appear on the charges.

Next, the defense presented the Sharp County Dispatch radio log, detailing the incident and proving no Sharp County deputies were called until after Arnold was being chased by Jines. Dispatch was able to keep in contact with the agent through the event via his cell phone, which he turned on speaker when Arnold tried to run over him.

Another piece of evidence which helped support the county's case was an "Inmate Commitment Summary Report." This report detailed the time in which Arnold was booked into the Sharp County Jail. The document was dated Feb. 13, 2007, after his release and medical clearance was presented to the jail from the hospital.

The release also outlined care instructions for Arnold's dressing, establishing this was the time in which he was in the care of the county, not when he was in the hospital.

Also presented were Arnold's prescription schedule and the charges which were filed against him by the state, not the county, for his role in the incident.

The jury deliberated for just over a half an hour and returned its verdict in favor of the county. In closing, Ohm stated, "No good deed goes unpunished," explaining Sheriff's Weaver's reasoning behind having deputies posted outside Arnold's door during his hospital stay.

Weaver stated, "I could have rightfully dumped this on Independence County, but I didn't feel that would be right." Due to being short handed, the state police was established as an "assisting agency." This meant, the state police could not take custody of Arnold, because they have no jail or detention facility.

For the safety and well-being of the hospital staff, Sharp County utilized deputies to make sure hospital personnel were safe until Arnold was released and became an inmate being held in Sharp County for Iroquois County officials.

Sheriff Weaver said he was very pleased with the verdict.

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