Small-Town Police Chief, Wife in Drug, Sex Scandal

Feb. 10, 2006 — -- A small Arkansas town has been rocked by the arrests of the police chief, his wife, the mayor, and several others on a wide array of crimes -- from conspiracy to manufacture methamphetamine and burglary, to having sex with jail inmates.

Arrested on Monday were Ronald Jay Campbell, the now-former Lonoke police chief, who faces multiple felony charges relating to drug and theft allegations, and his wife, Kelly Harrison Campbell, who was charged with having sex with two inmates. Their attorneys have said the two will plead not guilty.

The arrests forced a special city council meeting Wednesday night, when Lonoke Mayor Thomas Privett accepted the chief's resignation.

"I have a motion and a second to accept Chief Jay Campbell's resignation effective immediately. All in favor say 'aye,'" Privett said at the meeting.

"I've got a city to run. I've got a business to run, and that's what I intend to do," Privett said, but he is facing charges himself. He was also arrested on Monday, on misdemeanor charges of theft of services related to allegations that he had state prisoners do personal work for him.

The scandal has left residents in the community of 4,287 demanding accountability.

"If you do something to this degree, then you deserve to face the punishment for it," Lonoke resident Patricia Brown said. "Resigning is just the easy way out. It may give us a reputation where you can't trust anyone here. You never know what's going on."

The prosecutor handling the case said that accountability was what the people of Lonoke would get.

"Nobody is above the law, nobody," Lonoke County Prosecutor Lona McCastlain said.

Privett was taken into custody and released after posting $500 bond. Because he is only facing a misdemeanor charge, he has been allowed to remain in his post.

In a news release, Privett said he wanted to assure the citizens of Lonoke, "that there would be no disruption in the quality of law enforcement that they are accustomed to" during the search for a new sheriff.

McCastlain, the prosecutor, said the arrests were the result of an investigation that began in July 2005 by Arkansas State Police. She said that the investigation "is still ongoing" and that she expected additional charges and additional suspects.

"The people know that there are good officers on the police force, and they know that things will get back to normal soon," McCastlain said.

"I was floored," Lonoke police Commissioner Lloyd Whitaker said. "Anything like that catches you off guard."

He tried to reassure the community that the charges were not against the police department itself, just the chief, and said Lonoke residents could still feel that they were being protected.

Still, others say the charges the mayor faces are incompatible with what is going on in the scandal.

"They're disconnected in my book," said Lonoke city Councilman Pat Howell. "Misdemeanor vs. felony."

A trial judge in Lonoke has issued a gag order, which prohibits subpoenaed witnesses and those accused to discuss the case. The Campbells are scheduled to be arraigned on March 13, and Privett is due to be arraigned on April 4.

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