After just a few weeks after being named Director of the Arkansas State Police (ASP), former Sharp County resident, Colonel Stan Witt, took some time out of his busy schedule to talk about the road to the top. Witt shared some memories of the trip, prominent cases he has been involved in, as well as plans and visions for the department as it moves into a new era under his leadership.
Witt, who has been working with law enforcement since high school, is originally from Imboden, in Lawrence County. He spent many years working in Sharp County, as both a highway patrol officer and a criminal investigator.
The laid back Witt said, while living in Imboden as a teenager, he became friends with two state troopers from his hometown. Steve Huddleston and the late Tom Craig helped him get a job as a radio dispatcher at the Walnut Ridge Police Department while he was still in high school.
While dispatching calls for police and emergency personnel, Witt was able to get his feet wet in the law enforcement field, working from 4 p.m. until midnight during his senior year.
Huddleston has since retired and Craig was killed in the line of duty in 2000 while assisting a motorist during an ice storm. Both men implanted in Witt a huge amount of respect for the Arkansas State Police, and are named as a big part of the reason for him being in the position he is today.
After working in dispatch for over a year, Witt filled an open position as a police officer with the Walnut Ridge Police Department. He laughed saying, "This was before standards went into effect in 1978. You had to be 21 to purchase a handgun and ammo. The other guys bought it for me. It was legal then for me to carry it, just not buy it."
Witt worked with the department for year and, at the age of 20, became a deputy for Lawrence County. "I will never forget this. I was still 20, due to be 21 in December, and the sheriff handed me my deputy badge, and made me promise not to shoot anyone til I was 21," Witt said, fondly reliving the memory.
During this time, a fourth grade boy who was a friend and neighbor to the Witt family, took notice of Witt's job as a young police officer. 30 years later, Wendall Jines also works for the State Police, as an investigator. "I just remember seeing him go by my house to work and thought how cool he was, being a policeman and living in my neighborhood," Jones recalled. "I never dreamed I would grow up to do what he is doing. He has even my boss at one time. It is so great to see where he is today and how far he has come."
Witt continued in law enforcement, serving as a City Marshall for Imboden, after working as a deputy. He then went to work for the Jonesboro Police Department to gain further law enforcement experience.
Witt's career took another turn in June of 1983, when Lawrence County Sheriff Gene Matthews was killed trying to apprehend a fugitive.
Witt said, as the Quorum Court discussed appointing a new sheriff to fill Matthew's term, Bob Tomlinson contacted him. Tomlinson said he had been offered the sheriff's position, and would take if, if Witt would come back to Lawrence County and be his chief deputy. Witt accepted and returned to the county.
In 1984, the sheriff seat was vacant so Witt, along with nine others, ran for the position, and he was elected sheriff at the age of 27. Witt was the youngest sheriff in the state at that time.
As for his long interest in the Arkansas State Police, Witt took a test to work for the ASP when he was 22, but never heard anything from it.
Witt explained that, years later, ASP Director Tommy Goodwin, who also lived in Lawrence County, asked him why he had never pursued a job with the State Police, during a 1985 visit at Witt's mother's home. Witt told him about taking the test year's prior, but never being called for a job.
Goodwin went back to Little Rock and checked on Witt's file. He found, when Witt became sheriff, his ASP application was put into inactive status. Goodwin quickly arranged for the file and test to be put back into active status,
As fate would have it, Witt was later in Little Rock for a meeting. Goodwin asked him to come by headquarters that day, and Witt was offered a job. "State police has always been in my heart. That has been my ultimate goal my whole life, and it offers better benefits and retirement. So, I resigned as sheriff, and began with the Arkansas State Police on Oct. 18, 1985."
Witt went on to say that Tim K'Nuckles was hired the same day. They were the only two hired that year. "Now I am director and he is deputy director," Witt said.
"I have never considered myself better than anyone else because I have that badge. It is just a job like everyone else has a job. I have always tried to treat people fair," Witt said explaining his law enforcement philosophy.
Witt spent a large part of his ASP career in Sharp County, making a lot of friends and earning the community's respect. "Sharp County never had any major problems up there. Its all in how you treat people."
Witt spent seven years in highway patrol in the county, before moving to Jonesboro from 1992-1995 while working in the Criminal Investigation Division. During his time in CID, he also worked closely with area law enforcement, and on many cases in Sharp County. He moved back in 1995 and lived here until 2007, when a promotion took him to Little Rock.
"I don't know how I got here, but God has a plan for me," Witt said.
Over last four years Witt has followed high tech improvement to aid troopers. One is a new accident reporting system, where the troopers can swipe driver's licenses. "This will drastically reduce the amount of time it takes working accidents."
Witt is also keeping his eye on new technology currently being tested and developed at the University of Alabama, which allows for electronic ticketing, something Witt said would also bring changes to the department. "If it works like we hope it does, it will be tied to court clerks offices and send information directly to the correct court to will help them generate the docket." Witt explained.
"The courts and judges are very interested and, with us providing the software, it is something any county or municipality can get involved in and use.
While serving in Sharp County, Witt remembers the Eula and Dorthy Whitlock double homicide case he worked in Evening Shade. Witt recalls working with former Sheriff Dale Weaver ,and spending 18 straight hours processing crime scene of the gruesome hatchet and hammer murders. After nine months of investigation, Witt was instrumental in solving the crimes that eventually sent Charles Barnes to prison on two capital murder charges, first with a death penalty sentence, that was later overturned resulting in life without parole. Also sentenced in the crime was Melanie Roberts, charged with first-degree murder. She is serving two 40-year terms. Witt said the case was Sharp County's first death penalty sentence.
Witt recalled the days when there were only two troopers assigned to the county. He said it was just him and Mack Thompson, who is now a sergeant with the ASP. "We did the best we could with what we had back then. Sharp County was a high accident county because it was mostly two lane roads. We knew, if there was rain when we woke up, we'd better be ready to work an accident." Witt said.
The last few months have been a whirlwind for Witt. "I was promoted Sept. 8 to Major, and Sept 15, I got a call to the governor's office." He explained that he really had no idea why Governor Beebe wanted to see him, and was shocked when he asked him if he ever thought about being the director.
" I looked at him and I know I had this dumbfounded look on my face. I said, 'I guess anyone that has ever worn this uniforms has thought of it.'" Witt said. Beebe asked him to give it some serious thought. The two talked for an hour and a half discussing issues with the state police before the governor suggested he talk it over with his wife Tina.
Witt was told not to tell anyone of the conversation, but said he asked permission to speak with Col. Howard who was retiring, creating the open position. Witt said Beebe explained he wasn't telling him that he was offering him the job, but asked him to consider. "I thought, worst case scenario, was I was going to be a major in the state police," Witt said.
After talking with his wife, he said he still had made no decision, when he received a second call to the governor's office. "You don't get called back a second time unless there is a reason. I had a gut feeling he was going to offer me the job."
The decision to take the job came down to advice from his wife, Tina.
"Number One, it is an opportunity you can't pass up," Tina said, "and Number Two, I think you can make a difference." He said at that point he realized the only reason he hadn't made up his mind was the responsibility and the fear of the unknown.
"I went, and the governor gave me the job, and I have slept well every since. I have made the right decision and everyone in the department is also happy with my decision. If they are happy, they are going to be more productive. I just want to keep moving this department ahead and never forget the road troopers who are the backbone of this department." Witt explained.
"Since I have worked for this department, I have never failed at anything, and don't plan to start now. I will just get through the bad days because there are always more good days than bad," he said.
Witt and his wife, Tina, live in Austin. They have a 23-year old daughter, Ashley, who is in her last semester at William's Baptist College in Walnut Ridge, and is currently doing student teaching at Brookland.
Witt is the third ASP director originally from Lawrence County, following in the footsteps of Col. Tommy Goodwin and Col. Bill Miller.