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Fayetteville's Rock sues over Centerton arrest

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Photographs by File photo

Fayetteville High School tailback Terrance Rock (9) makes a play during a football game in October. Rock sued Centerton and a number of police officers in Washington County Circuit Court alleging wrongful arrest, malicious prosecution and other state and federal civil rights claims.

A Fayetteville High School student has sued Centerton and a number of police officers in Washington County Circuit Court alleging wrongful arrest, malicious prosecution and other state and federal civil rights claims.

Centerton Police arrested Terrance Rock, 19, at the high school Nov. 15 in connection with residential burglary and theft of property, both felonies. He was released from the Benton County Jail the next day on a $10,000 bond.

Legal Lingo

Wrongful Arrest

Wrongful arrest is physically detaining someone without proper legal authority. The situation often arises when an retail business employee or owner holds a suspected shoplifter without having seen a crime committed in their presence or pretend that they are police officers. Other common wrongful arrest situations include an arrest by a police officer of the wrong person or without probable cause to believe a crime has been committed and/or without a warrant. Wrongful arrest can be the basis of a lawsuit for damages, including mental distress and embarrassment.

Source: uslegal.com

Centerton Police Chief Cody Harper later acknowledged officers wrongfully arrested Rock and apologized in a Nov. 18 news release. Benton County Circuit Judge Robin Green dismissed the charges against Rock and sealed the case in early December.

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"Their acts and omissions were so obviously wrongful in light of pre-existing law that only a plainly incompetent officer or one who was knowingly violating the law would have done such a thing," according to the lawsuit filed on behalf of Rock by attorney Lance Cox. The document stretches over 45 pages.

The lawsuit seeks $750,000 in damages on the due process claim and unspecified compensatory and exemplary damages on the other claims. The lawsuit claims the unlawful arrest negatively affected Rock's college recruiting for football scholarship.

Police didn't interview Rock before they arrested him, according to the lawsuit. Rock, a senior running back, helped lead Fayetteville to the Class 7A football title with a win over North Little Rock High School.

The arrest came from a Sept. 25 incident in which a Centerton man claimed three teens stole items from his home, according to a probable cause affidavit. The man reported speakers, a cellphone charger and two watches were taken, according to the affidavit.

The lawsuit contends Centerton police made little or no effort to make sure they were arresting the correct person and, according to the lawsuit, boasted Rock's arrest was a high-profile one that would receive media attention because he was a star football player. Fayetteville was expected to play Bentonville in the second round of the playoffs the following week, according to the lawsuit.

The lawsuit contends the warrant was issued Oct. 10 without approval from the Benton County Prosecutor's Office and police waited more than a month to serve it.

Officers handcuffed Rock and escorted him out of the school to a waiting police car in front of students, teachers, staff and administrators, resulting in extreme embarrassment, fear, emotional distress, physical and mental anguish, harm and hardship, according to the lawsuit.

Police ignored Rock's protests he'd never been to Centerton and didn't know the teens accused of the break-in, according to the lawsuit. Police didn't further investigate Rock's statements and, instead, accused Rock of lying to them.

It wasn't until Cox and Benton County prosecutors investigated and confronted Centerton police with the identity of the person actually involved in the theft they admitted they requested and obtained a warrant for the wrong person, according to the lawsuit. That individual clearly had a different name than Rock, according to the lawsuit.

Police had the name, a photograph and video of the correct person, according to the lawsuit. It also claims police didn't talk to the two other defendants in the case to verify the identity of the third.

The victim's daughter also told police who the actual perpetrator was and identified him in a photo. A neighbor gave police video of the three thieves leaving the victim's home.

Instead, police did an Internet search of the Fayetteville High 2016 football roster and decided "Terrance" was their man, according to the lawsuit.

Christopher Cummins, one of the officers involved, was fired 14 days after Rock's arrest.

In addition to Cummins, the lawsuit names Centerton, Harper, officer Patrick Stuart, and detectives Jeremiah Nicholson and Alex Wallace. They're named in both their individual and official capacities.

The lawsuit alleges gross negligence by the defendants for intentionally circumventing the Prosecutor's Office to obtain a warrant. The arrest affidavit wasn't sent to the prosecutor to be reviewed before Rock was arrested, according to the lawsuit.

It also charges officers weren't trained, educated or supervised properly and the department had inadequate policies and procedures to make sure the correct person was being arrested.

Specifically, the lawsuit makes claims under both federal and state law for violation of due process, malicious prosecution, failure by Harper to intervene as well as false light, invasion of privacy, outrage and negligence.

The malicious prosecution claim contends there was no probable cause to arrest Rock and police knew or should have known they had the wrong person.

NW News on 04/20/2017

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