Police Chief Michael Yates bullied Jonesboro Sun reporter Sunshine Crump on Facebook. Repeated online comments were the final straw for Crump.
She recently resigned after she and the newspaper put up with questionable policy changes for receiving open records from the police department. She said policy changes made it difficult to do her job.
Her resignation — and subsequent response from the Sun and and other media watchdogs including Jim Romenesko’s blog — raised enough awareness that led to Mayor Harold Perrin’s decision to suspend Yates 30 days without pay. Perrin has also asked the police chief to issue an apology to the newspaper and Crump. Here’s Jim Romenesko’s story.
I spoke with Sun editor Chris Wessel for a bit last week before writing our response with Eric Francis and Sonny Albarado. The Arkansas Democrat Gazette also covered the story. Below is the column that ran in the Sun and written by Wessel detailing the newspaper’s version of the dispute:
Police chief’s conduct
merits prompt dismissal
Out the Editor’s Window
I got the disheartening news about 8 p.m. Monday. Sunshine Crump, our police and courts reporter at The Sun, couldn’t take it any more and quit.
What she couldn’t take is the kind of intimidation, bullying and personal attacks that no one — including a good reporter — should have to take — especially from Jonesboro’s top law enforcement officer, Mike Yates.
We’ve had an ongoing struggle recently with the police chief about releasing public information. Public Information Officer Sgt. Doug Formon has been deleting and redacting or completely masking narratives on police reports based on “ongoing investigations” and “investigative narrative masked.” He’s held reports until late in the afternoon to make our job more difficult.
Yates has also tried to keep probable cause affadivits from reporters at district court. Last week, two agents of the 2nd Judicial District Drug Task Force — both members of the Jonesboro Police Department — refused to allow our reporter access to four probable cause affidavits — court records that become public after the judge signs them. Normally copied for the newspaper and turned over to county jail personnel, the affidavits were no where to be found — absconded by the DTF agents at the direction of Yates.
PC affidavits are important public information because they detail why a person has been arrested and are basically on what the judge bases his decision to decide whether police have collected enough reliable evidence to pursue criminal charges. The record basically is the reason why the person is being jailed and a bond set.
So how do we know the DTF agents were directed to keep the probable cause affadavits from us? Because law enforcement sources inside the court told us so.
It all boils down to Yates’ vindictiveness against Sunshine and, by extension, this newspaper.
Yates doesn’t like it when stories about his police department and officers shed a negative light on their activities. Sunshine had written a couple stories that Yates didn’t like and said were damaging to his department.
That’s not the reporter’s fault. She was simply doing her job. Don’t shoot the messenger.
Since two stories were published in July, Yates has made it a personal vendetta to discredit and malign our reporter and with a stated mission on social media to undermine The Sun and “help that ship sink…..torpedoes away!!!!” The highly offensive comments our police chief has made on Facebook — open to the world to see — have besmirched our reporter and this newspaper and show he does not have the capacity to serve as police chief of our fine community. In addition to being unprofessional, this behavior causes us to believe he does not have the stability necessary to lead our police department.
We stand behind our reporter 100 percent, knowing what was published was accurate. The police chief hasn’t been able to show what was inaccurate about the stories or where he was misquoted or taken out of context. His complaints mostly have come weeks and months after two other stories were published, and he’s never sought a timely correction, clarification or meeting with Sun editors or the publisher in the past.
Here are some of the public comments our police chief has made on Facebook about our former reporter, Sunshine Crump:
- “Pro-dope smoking, law license revoked, left wing liberal, smelly, arrested by the police, unscrupulous reporter’s opinions and their idiotic handlers opinions don’t count … Just sayin.”
- “… Wonder if ole Sunshine (reporter) could pass a drug test? Why yes, she has been arrested before…..”
- “… Ask ole Sunshine (reporter) why her law license got suspended next time you see her.”
- “Reminds me of a song ….’ain’t no Sunshine when she’s GONE” etc…”
- “Dealing with ole Sunshine is like trying to pick up a dog turd by the ‘clean end.’”
This is our police chief talking about a member of the press on social media for the world to see. Other police officers are chiming in. Is this the type of individual we want leading armed men and women charged with protecting and serving the residents of Jonesboro?
Schools across the nation spend exorbitant amounts of time and money teaching fifth-, sixth- and seventh-graders not to bully other students on social media. The Jonesboro Police Department has officers in our schools who preach about anti-bullying measures. Apparently, our police chief didn’t receive the proper training as a child and is still bullying people to this day.
We’re standing up to the bully.
Yates’ crass and pathetic public ridiculing of a fine reporter is a Windex-clear window into the type of person our police chief truly is. It shows unvarnished his character and the lack of leadership qualities he possesses. It appears he’s even done a background check on a private citizen he doesn’t like in an effort to hurt her. Who will be his next target? Me? You?
Yates had tried to get Sunshine reassigned at the newspaper by telling us he wouldn’t give us access to information that we’ve always been given in the past. He’s done a good job of that. Yates was also trying to get Sunshine fired from The Sun. When that didn’t work, he decided to go after The Sun itself.
Now, he’s accomplished one of his goals. Sunshine couldn’t take his abuse and intimidation any longer and resigned.
“I am unable to do the job,” Sunshine wrote in her resignation letter. “I do not feel safe here, and I will not continue to be put in a position of self-defense. I am an innocent person …”
As for Yates’ denigrating comments, Sunshine was arrested once as a college student during a protest. The charge was later dropped. We’ll give her a badge of honor for that one. Her law license was never “revoked” or “suspended” as Yates said and would have his minions believe. It lapsed because she stopped practicing, so she stopped paying the annual license fees.
Yates must be held accountable for his hatchet job of Sunshine Crump, for his efforts to damage The Sun and for his actions that have put the Jonesboro Police Department in such a bad light.
Mayor Perrin? We’ve met and discussed this issue with you three times at length. Yates has laid this mess at your doorstep. It’s your responsibility to clean it up.
What I can guarantee our readers is that we will not be intimidated by a bully simply because he wears a police chief badge and carries a gun. We admire the many fine men and women in law enforcement here, but we won’t put up with a bully.
We will continue to aggressively pursue the public’s right to public information through all means necessary. We will do it professionally and with courtesy — something Mike Yates has proven he knows nothing about.
Yates was right about one thing: There is no Sunshine when she’s gone.
Chris Wessel, editor of The Sun, can be reached at 935-5525, Ext. 250., or by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.