BPD supervisor: Terminated officer had 'pattern of poor decisions'

Wednesday, May 17, 2017
A reader submitted this photo apparently showing former Blytheville Police Department Sgt. Dustin LaCotts’ patrol car blocking a ramp at the Blytheville Youth Sportsplex last Tuesday night, as a woman in a wheelchair tries to access it.

A parking incident that led to Sgt. Dustin LaCotts’ termination was part of “a pattern of making poor decisions,” according to his personnel file obtained by an Arkansas Freedom of Information Act request.

On May 9, LaCotts reportedly parked on a handicap ramp at the Blytheville Youth Sportsplex, and a picture showed a woman in a wheelchair was unable to access the ramp.

LaCotts told the Courier News that he was just dropping off equipment and an inhaler for his son before the boy’s game.

“I should not have parked in that spot, but I don’t think it was a fireable offense,” he said.

In the employee incident report, LaCotts, who was on duty at the time, said he was only there momentarily and apologized to the woman.

His supervisor, Capt. Jeremy Ward, wrote in the employee incident report that he told LaCotts that he was being placed on administrative leave.

Ward said on May 10, the decision was made to recommend termination based on “a pattern of making poor decisions.”

Ward cited an incident at the Arkansas Safe Schools Conference in Little Rock last July, when LaCotts allegedly text the school-employed security officer many sexually-explicit messages, including a photo.

Also, Ward wrote that LaCotts delegated basic job duties to a subordinate officer and, when that officer left the shift, LaCotts was unable to approve motor vehicle accident reports, for example. He also noted earlier this year, LaCotts did not back up an Arkansas State Police officer until directed.

Ward wrote that on May 10, he asked LaCotts to meet with himself and Capt. Scott Adams at 2 p.m. that day, telling the sergeant that the parking incident was serious.

“I told him that the chief (Ross Thompson) was prepared to terminate him and offered him the opportunity to resign from his position,” Ward wrote. “He replied that we would have to fire him. I informed him that Chief Thompson had made arrangements to see him at 2:30 p.m. in his office. LaCotts stated that he was going home to get his gear and was coming back. LaCotts then left the office and did not return at the scheduled 2:30 appointment.”

Capt. Adams wrote in his report that LaCotts did go to the chief’s office at 9:30 a.m. on May 11 with his equipment and asked for his letter of termination. LaCotts was told to leave, and he was no longer employed with the department, Adams wrote.

Thompson wrote that LaCotts was dismissed on May 10, and a letter of dismissal was placed in his file.

LaCotts was apparently warned following the incident at the school conference.

“Sgt. LaCotts needs to realize how his behavior has affected this department and our relationship with the school,” former Capt. Teri Looney wrote in the employee incident report. “To have to spend time and money selecting and training a new SRO (School Resource Officer) for this position just a few weeks before the start of a new school year is an embarrassment for this department. Any further disciplinary problems of this nature in the future would almost assuredly lead to immediate termination.”

The employee incident report said that on July 21, 2016 the school security director notified BPD of the “adult texts,” as LaCotts called it during an interview with the CN on Friday.

The report said LaCotts was intoxicated and “had been playfully texting sexual comments to (the school security officer) all evening and that at first she thought nothing of it. (The school security officer) said she realized Sgt. LaCotts was intoxicated and because she and Sgt. LaCotts have always had a good working relationship she took the comments as teasing or horseplay but after several hours LaCotts continued texting. (The school security director) expressed his concerns because the beginning of the school year is just a few weeks away and he knows that (the security officer) and Sgt. LaCotts will be working closely together at the school. (The school director) does not want (the school security officer) to feel in any way uncomfortable in the workplace and (the school director) has reported this incident to superintendent of schools Mr. (Richard) Atwill.”

The report said the school security officer told the BPD that the texts continued for many hours even after she went to her room and “that most, if not all, the messages were sexually explicit.”

“I heard from another member of the police department that Sgt. LaCotts may have also sent a very sexually explicit picture and (the school security officer) confirmed that was also true but that she thought it was something he sent from the internet and not an actual picture of himself.”

The security officer noted that LaCotts told her not to report the conversations, and she did not want LaCotts “to get in any trouble, but obviously felt that he was acting very inappropriately because of his level of intoxication.”

On Friday, LaCotts told the CN that he and the school security officer are both flirtatious, single adults.

The report said BPD had no choice but to remove LaCotts from the School Resource Officer position.

Looney found that LaCotts violated the code of conduct, including the sexual harassment policy.

In another incident report, Capt. Ward wrote on April 13 that he noticed a trend of job performance issues with LaCotts, including failure to supervise, failure to retain training and failure to provide back-up assistance to officers.

Ward noted in the report that LaCotts dropped off his son at a high school basketball game this year and went into the gym, while on duty.

“A short time later a call was dispatched from an Arkansas State Trooper needing assistance in the Holly/Hearn area,” Ward wrote. “I waited for several minutes for Sgt. LaCotts to exit the building and proceed to the call. LaCotts failed to do so and did not leave until I went inside the building and directed him to respond to the call. I told LaCotts that this should not ever happen again and that when any officer is asking for assistance he should respond as quickly as possible. I later warned LaCotts about spending too much time at sports events while on duty. I reminded him he still has a job and duties to perform for the community and his subordinate officers.”

In LaCotts’ 2015 SRO Performance Appraisal, his supervisor, Looney, gave him an overall assessment rating of “Fully Competent.”

However, some of her notes included:

— “Sgt. LaCotts turns in reports in a timely manner but often has to be reminded to submit other forms.”

— “Sgt. LaCotts is punctual in reporting to work but misses work frequently for sick days.”

— “I often have to verbally tell Sgt. LaCotts that his uniform appearance is sloppy. Often have to tell him to shave as well.”

— “Sgt. LaCotts has had trouble adjusting to the changes in school security staffing this school year.”

— “Sgt. LaCotts needs to work harder at adapting to the changes being made at the school.”

mbrasfield@blythevillecourier.com