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Jonesboro police chief suspended without pay

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Jonesboro Police Chief Mike Yates addressing city council in February. Jonesboro Police Chief Mike Yates addressing city council in February.
JONESBORO, AR (KAIT) - Mayor Harold Perrin suspended Jonesboro Police Chief Mike Yates without pay for a month for Facebook comments he made about a Jonesboro news reporter.

According to a news release issued Friday afternoon, Yates' suspension begins immediately. 

"I have carefully weighed all my options and firmly feel that this is the best course of action to take at this particular time," stated Perrin in the news release. "I do not condone the comments that Chief Yates made through social media concerning Ms. Crump or her employer, and I have made it clear through my disciplinary action that I will not tolerate any such future behavior." 

Yates told Region 8 News he could not comment on Perrin's decision. 

Mayor Perrin ordered Yates to complete a training course "to be determined by the Mayor's Office and related to the online media posts." Yates must also write a formal written letter of apology to both former reporter Sunshine Crump and The Sun, the newspaper where she worked as a reporter on the police beat.

Mayor Perrin said Yates' failure to follow through with these demands within 30 days would result in his termination. 

"Chief of police is a very high standard," Perrin said. "Any type of communication, whether it be on social, phone or whatever, will be strictly business. There's no assumptions or anything like that. It's strictly business. If any of those would occur, it would be grounds for immediate termination."

Mayor Perrin also told Jonesboro City Attorney Phillip Crego to review the police department's FOIA policies. 

"This has been a challenging week for me," stated Perrin in the news release. "These last few days have been long. This is not the sort of thing I want to be taking my time and the city's resources dealing with. We have far too many important issues that affect our community that have been robbed of our full attention, and that is tragic. To say that I am disappointed is an understatement."

Assistant Police Chief Tim Eads will serve as acting police chief during the length of Yates' suspension.

"Jonesboro's a great city," Perrin said. "Let's move forward. I need to get back in the business of being mayor and taking care of the city needs without having to worry about a bunch of personnel problems."

The suspension comes after the publisher of the Jonesboro Sun wanted Yates fired for derogatory comments made about Crump on a Facebook post.

In a story published Wednesday, Sun Publisher David Mosesso said Yates had maligned Crump's character and was interfering with the Sun's ability to conduct its business. The newspaper said the trouble began when Crump wrote a story that said Yates taught at Arkansas State University without having a proper permission form on file with the city.

The newspaper said Crump resigned Monday night because she no longer felt safe in her position.

Some of  Yates' comments questioned Crump personally.

"Wonder if ole Sunshine (reporter) could pass a drug test?," he wrote. "Why yes, she has been arrested before..."

Region 8 News found no record of drug history or arrests, but Crump was arrested in Houston in 2003 for participating in an anti-war protest. The charge was dropped.

Additional comments questioned Crump professionally.

"This is the kind of journalism we have now...," Chief Yates wrote. "Ask ole Sunshine (reporter) why her law license got suspended next time you see her."

Region 8 News contacted the State Bar of Texas and found Crump lost her license not for any disciplinary action, but for allowing her license to expire by not paying her membership fees.

Yates' Facebook comments also went after The Sun.

"I intend to help that ship sink... torpedoes away!!!," he wrote.

Sun employees said Yates' behavior resembles that of a "school yard bully" and something "you might expect from a child, not the top law enforcement officer in the city."

In an interview with The Sun, Yates stood behind his Facebook comments, saying he was exercising his First Amendment rights.

It's not known what further action the Jonesboro Sun will take against Yates. The paper is working with a Little Rock law firm that specializes in Arkansas' Freedom of Information Act and defamation law.

Perrin said the decision to suspend Yates was difficult.

"There was not a single decision that I could make that was going to make everyone happy," Perrin said in a statement. "There were many that were outraged and rushed to the conclusion that I should act in a certain way, and many others that were supportive of the Chief and rushed to the conclusion that I should act in another. At the end of the day, I had to weigh all the factors in play, including not only this one particular series of events involving Chief Yates, but also the job he has done for the citizens of Jonesboro during his entire tenure as our Chief of Police."

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