Ethics Violation..Salem Officers Roork and Walker fined
Former Salem Police Chief Albert Roork and current Salem Police Officer Terry Walker have been fined and given letters of reprimand after an investigation found they violated a state ethics law.
A citizen complaint filed with the Arkansas Ethics Commission in November of 2012 alleged that Roork and Walker contacted a Florida weapons manufacturer and ordered weapons on the pretense they would be used by the Salem Police Department, but the two sold some of the weapons for profit.
Investigation and Decision
According to the Ethics Commission, it began an investigation into whether Roork, who is now Chief Deputy of the Fulton County Sheriff's Department, used his position as Chief of Police and Walker used his position as a Salem City Police Patrolman "to obtain special privileges or exemptions in connection with using law enforcement letterhead to purchase firearms from Kel-Tec (a Florida fire arms manufacturer) and then reselling the weapons for personal profit."
In February, two Ethics Commission investigators traveled to Salem and Mountain Home to talk to Roork, Walker and Doug Niendick, the individual who filed the complaint.
On Feb. 20, Arkansas Ethics Commission Director Graham Sloan sent letters to Roork and Walker explaining that the results of the staff's investigation were presented to a Feb. 15 meeting of the Ethics Commission. "At that time, the Commission decided, by a vote of 4-0...that probable cause exists for finding that you violated Ark. Code Ann. 21-8-304(a)." That is the statute that prohibits public officials from using their position to obtain special privileges.
The letters detail that, besides using official Salem Police Department letterhead to order guns, evidence shows, "that the guns were invoiced to the City of Salem and then paid for with a City of Salem check after your personal funds were deposited into the City's bank account. Although you may not have initially ordered the firearms with the goal of making a profit, there is evidence that you did realize a profit by selling...guns to private citizens." Roork acknowledges selling one gun, and Walker two guns to private citizens.
Along with the finding of probable cause that they violated the law, Roork and Walker were given Offers of Settlement -- a $150 fine for Roork and a $300 fine for Walker. While the two could have contested the finding and sought a public hearing before the Commission, they accepted the settlement and paid the fines.
"They (Roork and Walker) need to follow the law like everyone else," Doug Neindick said. Neindick, who filed the ethics complaint, is a former Salem Police Officer who was fired in 2011, shortly before he filed a federal lawsuit against the city for alleging the city made him and other officers work unreasonable "on call" hours without pay. "The company in Florida (Kel-Tec) was very concerned when they found out the guns weren't for a police force. Weapons makers sell guns to law enforcement at a discount as a benefit. To buy the guns and resell them violates the level of trust that manufacturers have with law enforcement."
"I should have known better. Bottom line is, I screwed up," Roork explained when contacted about the ethics complaint. "Me and Patrolman Walker had been wanting some specialty guns from Kel-Tec and tried for a long time to get them. Distributors laughed at us, they said the demand for the guns is so high it was going to be a long wait."
Because Walker is a federally licensed fire arms dealer, they decided to contact Kel-Tec directly and, even though it has a huge list of backorders to fill, Roork said the company was receptive. According to Roork, the Salem officers explained they were buying the guns for individual use but, "They said, 'we will stop the line for a police order.'" Roork and Walker placed an order for themselves for a specialty handgun that will hold 30 rounds and a small shotgun that will hold 14 rounds. They also ordered some of the weapons for other local officers that wanted them, and some small concealed carry pistols.
According to Roork, problems arose when the weapons order was ready in less than a month, instead of the expected three or four months. Some of the officers did not have the money to pay for the weapons they ordered. Roork and Walker had no choice but to take the costly order, and later decided to sell some of the weapons.
"We did every thing above board," Roork said. "We wrote a check to give to the city to pay for the guns and they paid Kel-Tec. When we sold the guns, we followed the law and did all the federal paperwork and background checks. The only thing we did wrong is, we sold some guns outside of law enforcement and made a profit."
"Out of Ordinary"
Ethics Commission Director Clark Sloan called the Salem Police investigation "out of the ordinary," in that the commission most often investigates alleged violations of campaign finance and voting laws. "I don't know of any other cases we have ever handled involving guns," Sloan said.
After doing some research, Sloan found there was one statute on the books that gave his office jurisdiction in the Salem Police complaint -- the one regarding using public office for special privilege.
"At the end of the day, violations were found in two of the three cases we investigated, and we did what we were required to do by law," Sloan said. His office investigated just the specific public complaint it received, and did not look into whether officers had purchased and resold other weapons in the past.
In a letter on March 4, Roork and Walker were informed, "the Commission is hereby issuing you this Public Letter of Caution, which is advisory in nature and serves to give clear notice that your actions violated the law. You are advised not to engage in the same activity again."
Sheriff Foley Cleared
While Sheriff Buck Foley was named in the citizen complaint, he was notified in a Feb. 20 letter that, after looking at the staff investigation and applicable law, the Commission voted 4-0 that the complaint against him should be dismissed.
The letter stated, "Evidence gathered during the course of the investigation reflected that you had never ordered any firearms from Kel-Tec using official letterhead or otherwise. While you did purchase a Kel-Tec firearm from Patrolman Terry Walker, you took no affirmative action to procure the weapon from Kel-Tec, and you did not instruct or order Albert Roork or Terry Walker to purchase the gun on your behalf. Finally, there was no evidence that you resold your Kel-Tec firearm."
"No Taxpayer Money Misued"
Roork said he and Walker "cooperated 100 percent" with the Ethics Commission investigator and did not contest the commission's findings because, after being made aware of the law against using their positions for special privilege, they agreed they were wrong and paid their fines.
"No taxpayer money was misused," Roork said. "There is no victim in this case, just a disgruntled former employee."
Neindick, who continued to live in Salem until recently moving to Mountain Home, said he learned of the gun sales from people who had been approached to buy the guns intended for law enforcement. He made no apology for filing the complaint. "They got the weapons at a discount and got them right away, while regular people have to place an order and wait for months (to get their guns), " Neindick said. "Law enforcement officers should not take advantage of the system, and the Ethics Commission found they did," Neindick said.
Neindick's federal lawsuit against the City of Salem is scheduled for trial in Little Rock later this year.