by Max Brantley
Add the state Game and Fish Commission to those public agencies that like to do business in private.
An attorney general's opinion today by Mike Beebe said, as we'd argued all along, that law enforcement agency incident reports are generally public information. He did say that some court rulings indicate you can argue that some parts of such reports might be kept secret if part of ongoing investigations. They intend to do that. But we have our ways.
The question here arose over a wildlife officer's unfriendly encounter in the woods of Scott County with former Federal Marshal Ray Carnahan. Carnahan has told friends he tried to drive away from a man driving erratically on an all-terrain vehicle some months ago. Turns out the man was a wildlife officer, who gave chase and said Carnahan at one point refused his order to stop. Harsh words ensued.
This set a string of events in motion, we're told. Carnahan and his son, Chris, former director of the Arkansas Republican Party, reportedly tried to pressure Game and Fish to discipline the wildlife officer. That got Game and Fish's back up. A federal investigation was begun in the Western District of Arkansas. Carnahan told investigators the wildlife officer hadn't instructed him to stop. Big mistake. Apparently some evidence to the contrary (it's rumored to be a tape of radio traffic) exists. Refusing to obey a wildlife officer is maybe a misdemeanor. Lying to a federal investigator? Ask Martha Stewart.
The story is that Carnahan has been named in charges not yet released. The knowledge of those charges forced his resignation as U.S. marshal in late April. Arraignment day is scheduled Thursday in Fort Smith, unless Carnahan decides to cut a deal. But, if he thinks he's done no wrong, he may risk facing a serious charge for principle.
This would almost be funny if it wasn't such a sad example of how egos can blown out of control. Carnahan was in a suit and taking his aged mother, a grandhild and other family members on an outing from a nursing home. The wildlife officer was looking for bear poachers when he came upon the SUV-load of Carnahans.
But back to Game and Fish. We had FOI'ed their records on this incident weeks ago. They refused and asked for the a.g.'s opinion. Despite Beebe's opinion today, they didn't release their file on the case. Tomorrow, we're told. But we're told to expect that some of it will be redacted. Game and Fish claims it has an on-going investigation in this matter. Of what, we can't imagine. The feds have completed their investigation. The Game and Fish officer may be a witness, but he wouldn't appear to be the investigator. A variety of sources have provided this account to us. Carnahan has not returned our call.