Opinion writer

Last month, I published a report about the narcotics unit in the Little Rock Police Department. At the center of that story was Roderick Talley, a 31-year-old barber who was raided by that unit last year. Now, Talley finds himself in a lot of legal trouble, and the circumstances of his predicament are pretty suspicious.

On Nov. 14, Little Rock news outlets posted notices from police agencies across the state that an APB had been issued for Talley. According to these reports, earlier in the day, a judge in Cross County had ordered Talley arrested. Talley fled the courthouse to a rental car. The police claimed that Talley then struck an officer with his car and drove away.

Before I get further in to the details of what happened earlier this month, I think it’s worth summarizing my earlier report. Talley’s security camera captured the LRPD raid on his home from inside his apartment. The police team used explosives to blow Talley’s door not only off its hinges, but clear across the room. Three former SWAT officers to whom I showed the video said they have never seen anything like it, and that such explosives are dangerous and wholly inappropriate for this sort of raid. Talley’s camera also captured the SWAT officers laughing after watching the raid play back on Talley’s security system. A few recorded the raid on their cellphones.

The police claimed that an informant had purchased some drugs from Talley about a week earlier. But Talley’s outdoor camera showed that both the police and the informant who alleged to have bought drugs from Talley were lying. The informant claimed he purchased drugs from Talley at Talley’s home, and the police claimed to have witnessed this transaction. But Talley’s camera shows that on the day of the alleged drug buy, the informant approached Talley’s door and knocked, but Talley never answered. The search of Talley’s apartment turned up only a small amount of marijuana. (The informant claimed to have bought cocaine.) The charges against Talley were later dropped.

Angry about what had happened to him, Talley began filing open-records requests on other raids conducted by the same unit. He reached out to other people who appeared to have been raided based on the word of the same informant. Charges against at least two other suspects have since been dropped after this informant admitted to lying in those cases, too.

In early October, Talley and his attorney Michael Laux reached out to me and sent me the documents Talley had obtained from the LRPD. After I reviewed the search warrants and affidavits for these raids, it became clear that the LRPD narcotics unit seemed to be serving all search warrants with no-knock raids and that it was using boilerplate language to obtain the non-knock warrants for those raids. Both are violations of the Fourth Amendment under Supreme Court precedent. Worse yet, Little Rock judges were signing off on these warrants, despite the obvious violations.

Talley admitted to me that he had a criminal record, though it was mostly for small-time, nonviolent offenses. He denied ever selling drugs, much less cocaine, but did admit to smoking pot. He added that since he had obtained his barber’s license, he was trying to get his life together, and had even started a charity for at-risk kids. He had also experienced some harassment as a result of his attempts to expose police misconduct. Since the raid on his home, he had moved out of Little Rock to his grandmother’s home in Mississippi.

So let’s get to what happened earlier this month. Talley was in Cross County to appear in court on a forgery charge. That charge stems from a 2015 traffic stop, in which Talley was pulled over in Cross County for speeding. Upon searching Talley’s car, the police apparently found a gun and some cash. In Arkansas, it is legal to have a gun in your car, even if concealed. You do not need a permit. (The state also trails only Alaska in overall gun ownership.) So the gun would otherwise have been legal in Arkansas, except that it had also been reported stolen. Talley told me last month that he bought the gun from his cousin and had no idea it had been reported stolen. This was the only charge to result from the traffic stop. But because of that charge, the police also seized Talley’s cash under civil asset forfeiture laws. Talley told me he had been home to visit family in Mississippi, and was headed back to Little Rock when he was pulled over. He intended to use the cash to pay his tuition for barbering school. Cross County lies between Little Rock and Talley’s grandmother’s house in Mississippi.

From what I understand, in Arkansas there is no duty to investigate whether a gun you buy is stolen, so by early 2016, prosecutors had dropped the gun charge, leaving no underlying criminal infraction from the traffic stop. So Talley started looking into how he could get back the cash that the police had taken from him. He eventually got a favorable court ruling and a check. Here is where the “forgery” charges comes in.

According to Talley, the check was made out to “Roderick Talley and Willard Proctor,” his attorney, and included a place for both Talley and Proctor to sign. Talley didn’t see why his attorney needed to be involved in reclaiming property that had been taken from him, so he crossed out the word “and” and wrote in the word “or” on the check. He then signed the check and tried to cash it. As it turns out, Proctor did need to sign the check, and Talley’s crossing out his name was apparently improper. But Proctor did not file a criminal complaint, had no interest in pursuing any complaint, and did not ask for criminal charges. Talley got his money, and Proctor got his fee for representing Talley.

All of that was in March 2016. Yet according to the Arkansas criminal courts website, Cross County prosecutors waited to bring the felony forgery charge until Jan. 5, 2018 — 22 months after the alleged crime. And it’s an alleged crime for which Proctor, the alleged victim, did not feel wronged, and had never asked for criminal charges. But the charges, however, did come after Talley had begun posting on social media what he was learning about the LRPD narcotics unit. Of course, it’s impossible to say if the charge was retaliation. The county seat of Cross County, Wynne, is about an hour and 40 minutes from Little Rock. But it isn’t at all clear why this charge was resurrected nearly two years after the alleged crime. (The office of Cross County assistant district attorney Vincent Guest said Guest was out of town when I called, and has not returned my call. 

Talley’s first trial date was set for June 6, 2018. He drove four hours from Mississippi to the town of Wynne, only to learn that court proceedings had been canceled due to damage to the courthouse from some recent storms. No one had notified him. So he drove the four hours back home. Talley then requested a speedy trial to finally get the situation resolved. But in late August, the state asked for an exemption to its speedy trial obligation, apparently after some storms damaged the courthouse. The court granted the extension. Talley’s trial was postponed twice more, until it was finally scheduled for Nov. 14.

According to Talley, he was again en route to Cross County from Mississippi on Wednesday morning when he encountered some bad weather. This was the morning that a winter storm hit the Southeast, and parts of northwest Mississippi and Arkansas in particular — right along Talley’s route. In Tunica, Miss., a bus ran off the road and turned over, killing two people. Schools in the Cross County School District were closed, as were the schools in Wynne, the county seat and the site of the courthouse where Talley was headed. At 4 p.m., Cross County Sheriff J.R. Smith posted this message to his department’s Facebook page:

Please use extreme caution while navigating the roads in Cross County. There have been multiple accidents reported in the last few hours. If you don’t have to get out please stay at home. The road conditions are expected to worsen as the temperature drops this afternoon.The Arkansas Highway Department and County Road Department are out treating the roadways the best they can.

The Cross County Sheriff’s Department seems to have since removed this post from its Facebook page, as well as its initial post about Talley striking an officer and fleeing the courthouse. I haven’t spoken to Talley since all of this happened, but he told Laux that he called the court twice to let them know that he was running late. That apparently wasn’t enough. By the time he arrived, about a half hour late, the judge had sent the jury home and issued a warrant for Talley’s arrest. Laux says Talley told him he pleaded with court officials to let him talk to the judge. Instead, a deputy began to escort him through the courthouse to process his arrest.

It was apparently at this moment that Talley panicked and fled. According to news reports, he ran out of the courthouse to the rental car he had taken to Wynne. At this point, accounts of the incident differ. According to police, a sheriff’s deputy tried to prevent Talley from leaving. Talley then drove the car at the deputy, causing the deputy to fall onto the hood. Talley then turned out of the parking lot, leading the deputy to fall off the car. Laux states that Talley says the deputy threw himself onto the hood of the car to prevent Talley from leaving. But because the hood was wet, the deputy slipped off the side, at which point Talley drove off. Apparently there is video of the incident that will confirm what happened. Talley insists that the reports that he struck the deputy are false. At worst, he may have tried to drive away while the deputy was still partially on the hood.

Laux and Benjamin Crump (who is also representing Talley in his civil suit) issued a statement strongly denying that Talley struck the deputy. They also noted, with Talley’s approval, that his decision to flee was the wrong one, and that it’s a decision he regrets. On Facebook and through his attorneys, friends and relatives, Talley basically said that he panicked when he learned he’d be arrested. His mind flashed to the harassment he has endured since exposing the LRPD raids (as I reported last month, Talley says he was SWAT-ted while staying with some friends in a Little Rock suburb), and he feared for his safety if he were to be taken to a jail cell. Laux says he and Crump are actively trying to obtain a copy of the security camera footage.

Talley turned himself in the following day — Thursday, Nov. 15. He has been in a jail cell ever since. According to Laux, Talley now faces a litany of charges, including aggravated assault of a police officer, fleeing, escape, battery, failure to appear, various traffic violations and theft of property. (The theft is apparently related to the rental car. Talley says that after he agreed to turn himself in, a friend returned the rental car for him. According to Laux, there are conflicting reports that it may have been abandoned along the side of the road.) Talley was denied bail for failure to appear. His trial for the forgery charge is in January, so he’ll be in jail at least until then, through the holidays.

If the security footage does eventually show that Talley did not strike the deputy with his car, it was also dangerously irresponsible for the state’s police agencies to put out an alert claiming he did. That report instantly tagged Talley as a threat to the safety of police officers, and potentially put Talley’s life in danger.

Perhaps the most disturbing thing about all of this is the way the Little Rock Fraternal Order of Police tried to exploit Talley for political gain. When I began researching my longer article about LRPD in the fall of 2017, mayoral candidate Frank Scott Jr. gave me an interview and shared some of his plans for police reform. When my article about the raids came out Scott, who is black, put out a statement expressing concern over the allegations in the article. He called for a federal investigation. Scott also attended the news conference in which Talley announced his lawsuit, and was photographed praying with Talley.

Scott won a plurality of the vote in that mayoral election, held earlier this month. He’ll face the candidate who came in second, Baker Kurrus, in a runoff election on Dec. 4. Kurrus, who is white, has been endorsed by the Little Rock Fraternal Order of Police. Black police officers in Little Rock have long complained that the FOP doesn’t represent their interests. That’s why the city also has another union — the Little Rock Black Police Officers Association. The two organizations are often in conflict. In fact, the FOP has sued members of the LRBPOA for making allegations of racial discrimination against white officers.

Getting back to Talley, shortly after the Cross County Sheriff’s Department put out its notice, the Little Rock FOP posted this on its Facebook page:


The post has since been taken down, but the FOP has yet to apologize for it. To his credit, Kurrus himself asked the FOP to remove the post.

I admire Talley for what all he has done to expose police misconduct in Little Rock. I think there’s a very good chance that because of his efforts, the LRPD’s policy of serving drug warrants with dangerous, illegal no-knock raids will come to an end. His persistence has been downright heroic. Also, to be clear, whatever you make of Talley’s credibility, the charge that police detectives and informants misled in the investigations leading up to these raids, and that the raids themselves were illegal, is based not on Talley’s assertions, but on video evidence and the language the police used in the warrants themselves.

Putting aside Talley’s decision to flee, one can certainly understand Talley’s frustration here. The state can postpone his trial at its leisure without notifying him. After these postponements without notification, he then shows up a half hour or so late because of inclement weather, and he immediately faces arrest. That seems unfair. And of course so does the forgery charge itself, which seems pretty baseless. So does the forfeiture of his money that caused all of this in the first place.

Talley has made some mistakes in his life. Most have been pretty minor, the sort that often come with being black or low-income, and particularly both. When I first interviewed Talley, we went through his record. It was clearly uncomfortable for him. But he was forthright and open about everything in his record throughout our conversation. When he was in barbering school, he admitted, he fell behind on child support payments. He was trying to get right on that. He admitted he had been in a bad relationship that resulted in a restraining order. That resulted in theft and criminal trespass charges when he went to his ex’s residence to retrieve his belongings. All of those charges were later dropped, as was the protective order. He insists he was never abusive. He also admitted that he has sometimes driven on a suspended license, out of necessity. He also once got into a fight. He says both parties were at fault, but the other man pressed charges; he didn’t. That assault was the only felony on his record, at least until the courthouse incident.

Talley should certainly take responsibility for these mistakes. But the predicament in which he now finds himself is the product of not just his own bad choices, but also of a harsh and unforgiving system, exacerbated by him being a black man without means, all multiplied by his renown as the guy who took on the police. He took on the system. And now the system is punishing him for it. It’s also hard not to notice that the most serious charge Talley is now facing is for putting a police officer in harm’s way. He could get six years for that. Yet the cops who put Little Rock residents — including children — in harm’s way with illegal no-knock warrants and dangerous explosives are unlikely to face any repercussions at all, much less criminal charges.

Talley’s panicked decision to run away was the wrong one, but it also isn’t all that difficult to understand. The state of Arkansas seems intent on crushing him for it.