Ward Probation Officer's Arrest Inspires New Legislation

LONOKE COUNTY, Ark. - Two probation officers who served Lonoke County were arrested for the same thing: abusing their positions to get sexual favors from their probationers. 

One is facing second-degree assault, which is a felony, while the other got off with a misdemeanor. That probation officer was the Ward mayor's son, Mark Brooke. 

"It bothers me," said Merlyn Bartlett, a Ward resident. "It bothers me. I just don't feel this should be tolerated at all. If it was an oversight when the laws were written, it definitely should have been corrected much sooner than this." 

Until an undercover investigation led to Brooke's arrest for solicitation of prostitution in January, the loophole wasn't on the radar of the Lonoke County Sheriff's Office. 

"Never would have thought it," said Capt. David Bufford. 

He said the sheriff's department worked with several prosecuting attorneys to in an effort to heighten Brooke's charges but came up short. 

"We don't make the laws," Capt. Bufford said. "We can only enforce what's on the books and that's what we ran into. It's quite aggravating for us."

State lawmakers filed a bill to fill the loophole. The legislation would prohibit improper sexual conduct between a probation or parole officer and the person being supervised. 

"We shouldn't have to worry about that," Capt. Bufford said. "The probationer shouldn't have to worry about that so hopefully this will take care of that."

The bill now heads to the full House after it quickly passed in committee Thursday. 

If the governor signs it into law, Capt. Bufford said misdemeanors like Brooke's would become felony second-degree sexual assault, which is the difference between paying a fine and spending several years in county jail. 

"Hopefully it'll never happen again," Capt. Bufford said. 

Brooke now works in the Ward Street Department and is still the pastor of Cornerstone Assembly.
 
"I just don't feel it's right," Bartlett said. 
 
"Would your son still be working for you?," we asked. 
 
"No!," he responded. "He'd be unemployed."
 
The other probation officer who is facing second-degree assault, Jeffery Everetts, has a pre-trial hearing next Tuesday.

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