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Monday, May 2, 2016

Sex offender named interim Morriston fire chief

Friday, July 15, 2011

A dispute at a recent Morriston Volunteer Fire Department meeting led to a vote to remove Chief Curtis Raines and his wife, Angie, from the board of directors and dismiss them as firefighters.

That decision stunned many area firefighters, because of the Raines' dedication to developing training programs, which have allowed firefighters at all area departments to receive required training in the county, as opposed to traveling to other counties.

In addition, the Morriston VFD Board decision to elevate Captain Marshall Armstead to interim chief shocked many in the firefighting community, because Armstead is a convicted sex offender, required to register with the state sex offender registry.

"I don't feel comfortable having Marshall Armstead as chief," said a Morriston Fire Department member, who called The News the day after the leadership shakeup.

The problems arose at a Morriston Fire Department board meeting on Tuesday, July 5, when Captain Armstead criticized Chief Raines, who had served as chief for more than two years, for failing to remove an unsafe tanker truck from service.

According to three board members who were at the meeting, Armstead claimed he told Raines in March that a broken leaf spring in a tanker truck made it dangerous to drive.

Raines denied knowledge of the problem and asked Armstead why he had not immediately removed the truck from service himself.

Board President Al Poole joined the discussion, claiming Raines had placed firefighters in danger by allowing an unsafe vehicle to operate since March.

Raines left the meeting in frustration saying, "I'm done. I'm resigning as chief."

Poole then turned his attention to Angie Raines saying, as safety officer, she failed to do her job, since an unsafe truck remained in use.

As Poole asked for a motion to remove the Raines' as board members, Angie Raines also left the meeting, and a board vote removed the Raines' as board members and firefighters.

The board then choose Armstead to serve as interim chief.

"This has been building up for some time," said board chairman Poole. "The Raines' did a great job on training but, in day to day operations of the department, there were problems. Curtis has no people skills. He doesn't deal with people well."

Had the board notified the chief of shortcomings they felt needed to be corrected?

"Not in writing," Poole replied.

"We were stunned," said Angie Raines, about the meeting. "We were never warned (of problems), never written up, never given a "talking to."

Raines added, "It (the board meeting) was obviously all planned to get rid of us. We would not knowingly leave an unsafe vehicle in service. Safety is everyone's shared responsibility. If we were at fault, Marshall was just as wrong, because he supposedly knew about the problem since March and did nothing. What was his punishment?"

Did the fire department board go into its meeting knowing it was going to fire Curtis Raines as chief?

"We were going to take a vote," said Poole, who admitted Raines had not been informed his job performance was on the agenda.

"To me, it was a little extreme (removing the Raines' from the board and terminating them as firefighters)," said Armstead. "But I'm just the Secretary with one vote and it was a group decision." Armstead claimed he thought Raines was just going "to get a good chewing out" and denied orchestrating a plan to make him chief.

As for making Armstead interim chief, Poole said, "We decided to give some probation time to see if he could do the job. See how it will play out. I knew there was going to be trouble over this."

While others have raised the issue of a sexual offender serving as chief, Poole added, "He (Armstead) has benefited this community for 14 years (as a firefighter). I support him, and I'm a law and order person. I support Marshall in this case because I know him. He made a mistake and has worked to make sure it never happens again."

Records at the Arkansas Crime Information Center indicate that Armstead was convicted of two counts of rape and one count of sexual abuse.

"I was arrested in 1994 and pleaded guilty in 1995," said Armstead, who confirmed the charges involved two young women.

According to Armstead, he was first classified a level two sexual offender, an offender with a moderate risk of reoffending.

Between 2002 and 2007, Armstead was classified as a level three offender, an offender with a high risk of reoffending.

Armstead said his classification was raised because he failed to register and verify his address and other information, as required by law.

When allowed to request a new assessment after five years, Armstead's classification was dropped back to a level two.

"I have been a volunteer firefighter for 14 years with no problems," said Armstead. "I don't try to hide the fact I am a convicted felon and a sex offender, but I don't see it as an issue as far as serving as chief. There is no law that says I can't serve. I made a mistake 17 years ago and I paid the price for it. I have tried to be a better person and serving the community is one way I am doing that."

A long time firefighter from another department has mixed feelings about Armstead's appointment as chief.

"I believe in second chances," the firefighter said, "but what family will feel comfortable if their daughter or wife needed medical care and the first responder who arrives is a convicted sex offender?"

Angie Raines said she and her husband were aware of Armstead's sexual offender status and tried to make sure department policy, requiring two members to be present for a first responder run, was always followed.

That prevented Armstead from being alone with a victim or family members during an emergency run.

As word spread of their termination, Assistant Chief Troy Decker resigned from the department.

In addition, the Raines received many calls of support from area firefighters, some raising the question of whether a registered sex offender should serve as a fire chief.

"I am not going to question Marshall's right to be chief," said Raines. "I believe in second chances."

Disbelief was the response from Paula Stitz, who operates the Arkansas Sex Offender Registry, when informed one of her offenders had been appointed fire chief.

Stitz said it was very unusual for a sexual offender to seek a position of authority, which might put him in the public spotlight.

Rather than question whether a sexual offender should be a fire chief, Stitz said she would, generally, question whether an offender should be on a department at all.

According to Stitz, a firefighter goes into homes, as a first responder, where he could encounter temptation to reoffend, as he interacts and deals with members of the public.

While it might be commendable, that a sexual offender would seek training to help the community as a volunteer firefighter, Stitz said not serving in such a position would be "part of suffering the consequences" for sexual abuse convictions.

After a week of turmoil at the Morriston Fire Department, Marshall Armstead is looking to the future.

"We have already gained back two firefighters who left while Curtis was chief," Armstead said. "I will continue to offer training classes, and am going to Camden for two weeks to attend classes to become a certified instructor who can teach academy level classes."

Armstead expressed hope that the Raines may one day return as instructors adding, "They (the Raines) have done a good job, a great job. They brought this department up, from waist high to above head level. I wish them the best."

Board Chairman Poole said the board is instituting a new safety policy in which, each month, one department vehicle will be taken to a repair shop for a complete inspection and maintenance.

Because he admitted to the possibility that some board members may not have known of Armstead's criminal conviction when they chose him as chief, Board President Poole held a special board meeting on Sunday, July 10.

At the meeting, Armstead spoke to the board, including two new members who replaced the Raines, and Armstead's selection of Chief was unanimously upheld.

Poole added, at the next board meeting, he will ask for a vote of confidence.

"I have been on this department for 21 years. I am 73 years old. If anyone else thinks they can do a better job, they are welcome to take my place."

The Raines say they have received offers to join other area fire departments, but plan to take a break from the fire service for now.

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What is more unsafe than having a registered sex offender as Chief? The problem that many of these small towns cannot afford the upgrades and repairs in equipment. Even though there are grants made available through FEMA to purchase newer equipment, you have to have the grants written in such a way to show need. I have written FEMA grants(for free)which allowed FD's to obtain specific equipment that they needed. Equipment updating is important, as well as training for the volunteer fire departments. If you look around, you will find several of these small towns that don't have adequate equipment, or personnel. Having a registered sex offender at the helm, in my opinion, is putting the City as well as the fire department at risk. It's sad that the Raines' were chased out of their positions (no, I do not know them personally). I can't imagine anyone wanting to take on the responsibility of having a registered sex offender on staff, especially when that person would be a representative of the fire department, and have contact with the public including children.

-- Posted by goatgirl on Sat, Jul 16, 2011, at 2:51 PM

I do not know anyone in this story, so with that said, How can anyone think that Captain Marshall Armstead would walk into a homes, as a first responder, and the first thought in his head would be do something bad! Really?! He has been a FM for 14 years. I think if he was going to do anything, he would of done it by now. Let the men have the title, and let him get on with his life. He has paid his price for his mistake 17 years ago. People, get a grip.. I don't think he would be hurting anyone but helping them when there is a need.

-- Posted by momtosrs on Sat, Jul 16, 2011, at 6:55 PM

Seems to me he paid his debt to society and has been a contributing member of society for the last 14 years. I think rather than focusing on his past, he should be allowed to get on with his life. It is extremely difficult for registered sex offenders to obtain and maintain employment and if he has managed to do that, kudos to him for a job well done. Obviously his peers feel that he is a qualified person for the job. Only about 5% of registered sex offenders EVER reoffend and their likelihood to reoffend actually decreases when they maintain steady employment.

-- Posted by LynnGilmore on Sat, Jul 16, 2011, at 10:33 PM

The public never ceases to amaze me! How many homes and lives has this man saved? And yet, we as a society want to throw away the key on this man!

There are over 750,000 registrants on the SO registry. Has anyone ever asked why so many? There are children as young as 5 and 6 years old on the registry for "touching" another child in a day care setting! There are young teens on the registry for teen age relationships. People who have urinated in bushes while fishing. Married couples who were caught "necking" in their car at a park. Moms and Dads taking pictures of their children in the bath tub. The list goes on and on! This hysteria will not stop until we as American citizens stop listening to the fear that the media and lawmakers have created to gain votes and ratings. Our tax payer money would be better spent on education and our American debt!

It is a well known fact that over 70% of all children who are molested or abused are done so by a family member or a close friend. The national recidivism rate for these types of offenses is 4.5%. Why are we allowing our government to spend thousands of dollars per registrant to: investigate, take to trial, house in DOC for years, and then monitor and pay for costs to register these 4.5% of offenders? When evidence and statistics prove they will never re-offend? Stop paying in to this hysteria!

-- Posted by RWsMom on Sat, Jul 16, 2011, at 11:45 PM

Shame on Paula Stitz. Saying Raines should not qualify to be a firefighter as part of his "consequences" is unprofessional and not befitting the Sheriff's office. Stitz let her personal distaste for Mr. Raines' decades old crime take over her reason and it was immature at best.

It is time to fire Stitz. She is clearly an ignorant bully. That she wants our community to indefinitely punish former offenders is simply scary.

-- Posted by Karenyounger on Sun, Jul 17, 2011, at 9:58 PM

OMG! Worse yet! Paula Stitz runs the Arkansas sex offender registry. Really?

She knows sex offenders rarely repeat sex crimes and should not have said any of the comments she made. Very unprofessional. I thought she was a sheriff who was simply under educated, but this woman is paid to know sex offender issues.

-- Posted by Karenyounger on Sun, Jul 17, 2011, at 10:01 PM

Paula Stitz works for the Arkansas Crime Information Center NOT for any Sheriff's Office.

The common thought is that VICTIMS have to live with the consequences of the offense the rest of their lives,why shouldnt the offender have to live with the consequences of his crimes also? Would you let a convicted murderer be Fire Chief? I dont believe that punishment should continue indefinately and I am suprised by Ms. Stitz's comments.

-- Posted by googlegirl on Mon, Jul 18, 2011, at 8:57 AM

This country was founded by people looking for a second chance. Looking for a new life, yet we have forgotten all of that. Our country has become a haven for people that believe they are 'entitled' to something. That they do not have to 'earn' a thing. And that believe that PERSECUTING someone for their entire life is anyway to treat ANYONE regardless of their crime.

We do not put Wife Beaters on a registry. WE don't put Child Abusers on a registry. We don't put Drunk Drivers on a Registry. We don't put murders or serial killers on a registry. We don't even put con artists that have bilked people out of MILLIONS of dollars on a registry so that people will know who they are dealing with. I don't believe any of their victims ever 'get over' the crime that perpetrated against them either. But that hasn't given anyone the idea of putting ANY of them on a LIST. Maybe it is because there are more law makers that have done those things and they don't want to be listed? Or is it because some child hasn't died to 'make it happen'.

Half the laws we have including the Federal one that were created to protect children from sex offenders WERE NEVER PROVEN TO HAVE BEEN SEXUALLY OFFENDED AGAINST. Adam Walsh, namesake for the Federal Law, only his severed head was found and there was no evidence of sex abuse. Someone that has confessed and recanted so many times that it is hard to believe that they did anything to that child has already been put to death so there will never be any more 'truth' that comes out about that child abduction. Jacob Wetterling, another namesake for a sex offender law, was abducted but NEVER FOUND, so there again is no evidence that a sex offender was EVER involved with the disappearance of that child. Yet a very powerful law was passed in his name.

How many people will have to die of domestic abuse for there to be a registry created to monitor and supervise those batterers? How many people will have to die on our country's roads by drunk drivers before we make a list so we know whom to avoid when we are driving?

There is always going to be bad people out there that commit terrible crimes... but is NOT AN EXCUSE to persecute everyone that has ever committed the same crime, it is like punishing your current significant other for the acts of all your previous relationships. How is that fair to ANYONE?

-- Posted by WIRSOL on Tue, Jul 19, 2011, at 2:38 PM

This would have been a non-story 15 years ago before we put asside our countries constitution, morality and future in the effort to seek life long revenge against everyone who ever gets CONVICTED of doing something wrong. Lets think for a minute how many times we could have been busted, but got lucky. This should have never been a story. His 14 years of selfless service and giving back to the community should be enough that we can forgive a fellow human being. If not, our country will continue a down hill slide away from greatness. Lets turn this around.

-- Posted by RSOLNM on Wed, Jul 20, 2011, at 9:47 AM

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