Employment records show past problems, successes of 3 Arkansas officers in viral arrest

By: and - September 1, 2022 5:51 pm

A screenshot taken from the viral video that captured three Arkansas law enforcement officers beating a suspect in Crawford County on Aug. 21. (Courtesy of Naomi Johnson)

One of the officers involved in the now-viral beating of a suspect in northwest Arkansas was fired or forced to resign from two nearby law enforcement agencies over domestic problems.

Another was counseled on two occasions for being too aggressive with inmates at the Crawford County jail, including a reprimand for striking an inmate in the face.

Personnel records obtained by the Arkansas Advocate earlier this week for the three officers seen in the viral video outside a gas station in Mulberry on Aug. 21 give the most complete background yet of Crawford County deputies Levi White and Zack King and Mulberry police officer Thell Riddle.

National attention flooded Crawford County almost two weeks ago after the video of a violent arrest was posted online. 

The video shows three officers striking Randal Worcester in the face and body during the arrest. 

The incident is being investigated by local, state and federal authorities, but many, including Arkansas Gov. Asa Hutchinson, have questioned the officers’ use of force. 

An attorney for the two Crawford County deputies has argued the amount of force used by the officers was necessary. He said Worcester attacked Deputy Levi White, slamming the deputy’s head into the parking lot concrete and causing a concussion. 

Worcester’s attorneys have already filed a federal lawsuit against the three officers and their departments.

The several hundred pages in the files reveal troubled pasts as well as commendations from superiors and compliments from community members about positive actions by the officers that went above and beyond.

Mulberry officer Thell Riddle

The Advocate first reported that Riddle was fired from the Kibler Police Department in 2008 after being involved in a pair of domestic disturbances with his then-girlfriend, according to records from the state Commission on Law Enforcement Standards and Training and reports from the Van Buren Police Department.

The commission records also showed that Riddle resigned from the Crawford County Sheriff’s office shortly before going to work in Kibler due to “personal conflicts.” Newly released records show he was forced to resign from the sheriff’s office.

“I had the opportunity to resign instead of being terminated in January of 2008 from the Crawford County sheriff department,” Riddle wrote in his job application before joining the Mulberry Police Department in 2017.

Riddle, prior to being forced out of the Crawford County sheriff’s office, was reprimanded for a variety of issues, including failing to properly search a detainee and lying to supervisors about picking up a woman on duty, according to records obtained by KNWA-TV and FOX24 News.

Mr. Riddle has had problems in the distant past but over the last several years seems to display a good honest character.

– Mulberry Police Chief Shannon Gregory

Mulberry Police Chief Shannon Gregory noted Riddle’s past in a letter. He also noted that Riddle worked as the police chief in Gans, Oklahoma, for the better half of a decade after being fired from Kibler. In Gans, Gregory wrote that local officials and the community had positive opinions of Riddle.

“Mr. Riddle has had problems in the distant past but over the last several years seems to display a good honest character. I see no reason in the recent past to reject Mr. Riddle on the background check and feel that Mr. Riddle would be a good hire for the City of Mulberry,” Gregory wrote.

Gregory in a Thursday email stood by what he wrote about Riddle.

Riddle’s file obtained by the Advocate also includes two letters of reprimand from Gregory.

Gregory reprimanded Riddle in 2019 for putting himself in danger and damaging city property when he disabled a police car by driving too fast into a flooded road while responding to help another officer in a pursuit.

In May, a resident complained that Riddle was unprofessional, “cursing her” in front of paramedics and others at the scene of a call. The medics confirmed that Riddle used “very strong language.” 

“I understand we have bad days, weeks and so on,” Gregory wrote. “But it is imperative that we as public servants try to be professional at all times and treat everyone with respect and dignity.

“This letter is to serve as notice of your actions and will stay in your file for six months. If there are no further infractions, it will be removed.”

Riddle’s file also included a positive note from a stranded motorist, Dan Nicholson, who in 2017 wrote a note to the Mulberry mayor commending Riddle.

Nicholson on Thursday said his memory of the incident was vague, but that he remembered Riddle being cordial and helpful late at night when he had car problems along Interstate 40 near Mulberry.

“It impressed me,” Nicholson said. “He was so cordial and insistent on being helpful that it motivated me enough to send a kind word to the mayor about him.” 

Crawford County Deputy Zack King

King began working for the sheriff’s office in 2018, and he has been written up six times, according to county personnel records. 

In March 2018, he was reprimanded for “striking an inmate in the face” during an altercation, according to a disciplinary form.

The following month, he was again written up for “being too aggressive with inmates,” records show. 

In 2019, King misplaced his badge. A month later, he was reprimanded for insubordination after he left his shift early despite being told repeatedly not to, according to a letter in his file. 

He was also written up several times for failing to follow jail protocols and not following his supervisors’ instructions.

Crawford County Deputy Levi White

White began working in Crawford County earlier this year after stints at the sheriff’s offices in Johnson and Franklin counties. White was named Officer of the Year in Franklin County in 2018 and 2019, according to his resume.

White doesn’t have any reprimands or negative personnel actions in his file.

Two Crawford County residents last week accused White of using excessive force when arresting them in separate incidents.

Crawford County Sheriff Jimmy Damante could not be reached for comment. 

The suspect

Randall (Sometimes spelled Randal in public records) Ray Worcester, 27, of Goose Creek, South Carolina, has a criminal background that includes aggression toward law enforcement. (Court records show Worcester has recently been living in Oklahoma.)

Worcester pleaded guilty to felony assault and battery on a police officer in Oklahoma in July 2021, according to records obtained by the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette. He received a three-year suspended prison sentence. 

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Oklahoma City police also responded to a report last year that Worcester was trying to jump in front of vehicles, the Democrat-Gazette reported. 

In 2020, Worcester was sentenced to 120 days in jail for misdemeanor domestic abuse, according to court records. His father, reportedly, told police that Worcester hit him in the face, and he was scared Worcester might stab him with a knife he had, according to Oklahoma court records.

*This story has been updated.

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Hunter Field
Hunter Field

Hunter Field is a veteran Arkansas journalist whose reporting on the state has carried him from military air strips in northwest Arkansas to soybean fields in the Arkansas delta. He spent the better part of the last decade investigating and reporting on Arkansas government and politics. For three years, he covered education policy, medical marijuana and the Arkansas General Assembly as part of the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette’s Capitol Bureau. Most recently, he was the Democrat-Gazette's projects editor, leading the newspaper's investigative team. Hunter got his start in journalism covering sports for The Commercial Appeal in Memphis. A Memphis native, he enjoys smoking barbecue, kayaking and fishing in his free time.

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Tess Vrbin
Tess Vrbin

Tess Vrbin came to the Advocate from the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette, where she reported on low-income housing and tenants' rights, and won awards for her coverage of 2021 flooding and tornado damage in rural Arkansas. She previously covered local government for The Commercial Dispatch in Mississippi and state government for the Columbia Daily Tribune in Missouri. A Midwesterner by birth, she graduated from the University of Missouri's journalism school in 2019.

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