Special Report: Investigating Jefferson County Justice of the Peace

Special Report: Investigating Jefferson County Justice of the Peace

Last year FOX16 reported on a violent night at a party thrown at a club owned by an elected official in Jefferson County, but questions still remain.
PINE BLUFF, AR -- Last year FOX16 reported on a violent night at a party thrown at a club owned by an elected official in Jefferson County.

During the party, Justice of the Peace Lloyd Franklin was shot, and another man died after a fight.

What happened sparked questions about the establishment and as FOX16's Drew Petrimoulx looked further into the man who owns it, he found more questions surrounding this public servant.

Grieving Mother

Six months have passed, but the pain still spills out in tears for Ramona Coleman.

Coleman cries for her son, Antonio Jenkins, 22 and a father of four -- he'd just been accepted to the University of Arkansas.

It was Saturday, November 9th when Jenkins attended a party at an old bus station in downtown Pine Bluff. The spot is owned by Franklin.

"This is the party that Antonio attended that night," Coleman said, pointing to a flyer touting a "LOL" party -- meaning "Lotz of Liquor."

"What did they have going on at this party?" Coleman questions.

At one point during the party a fight broke out. Police say Jenkins was knocked unconscious, and friends dropped him off at his mother's house.

"When I got ready to go to work the next morning I was going to wake him up to see what happened and he wouldn't wake up," Coleman says, breaking down into tears.

The state crime lab found Jenkins died from blunt force trauma to the head. A Pine Bluff man is currently charged with battery in connection to the fight, but Jenkins wasn't the only victim of violence that night.

"We're still trying to find a witness that could come forward to say who the shooter was," said Pine Bluff Police Sgt. David De Foor.

Shortly after the fight, Franklin was shot in the face when witnesses say 20 to 25 shots rang out in the street.

"Mr. Franklin getting shot is still an open investigation," De Foor said.

No arrests in the shooting have been made, but as Franklin recovered from his injuries, flyers posted on social media suggest the party went on at the bus station. December 28th the theme was "Winter Madness." January 24th it was a "Pajama Jam."

"They went on and continued to have a party at the same place my son lost his life," Coleman said. "It was just too much."

Records show, Franklin got a zoning approval for the property from the city of Pine Bluff in June of last year but didn't register the business as a non-profit until two weeks ago -- after FOX16 started asking questions.

FOX16 tried repeatedly to arrange an interview with Franklin.

The day we were supposed to meet him at his Pine Bluff computer repair shop, he canceled last minute -- promising he'd reschedule. We haven't heard from him since. Repeated calls and text messages to his cell phone have gone unreturned.

Meanwhile, Coleman says she hasn't heard from Franklin either.

"I would think that the fact that my son lost his life at his place of business that he would at least come to me and tell me that he's apologizing," she said. "I didn't get any remorse or anything from him."

Digging Deeper

The questions about Franklin grew as we looked into that computer store where we were supposed to meet him for the interview.

Records show for five years, Franklin didn't pay business licensing fees, racking up $1,562 in debt to the Pine Bluff City Collector. Franklin also finally paid that two weeks ago.

"Being an elected official, you would think he would have everything in order," said Sharon Johnson, assistant city collector in Pine Bluff.

Over the last three years, records show he's racked up nearly $600 in unpaid franchising fees to the Arkansas Secretary of State.

While he wasn't paying the city and state taxes he owes, invoices show he did collect more than $75,000 since 2008 from Jefferson County for work done by his company.

Questions Remain

Coleman still struggles daily with the loss of her son as she tries to understand why the club where he was injured hasn't been shut down.

"The city is allowing to continue to do this after a life was taken," Coleman said. "Something just doesn't seem right with me."

Late Thursday Franklin issued the below statement:

"The occupational tax issue involved a dispute over years when I was not engaged in business. A concern that I am sure you can appreciate; the issue has been resolved. The amount in question was merely a $130.00 tax. All of my businesses are current with all taxes and licenses. It is noteworthy that the reporter failed to mention the fact that the city collector was terminated for failure to perform the essential duties of his job. I.e. proper billing and collecting.

As far as technical services provided by my company to Jefferson County and the City of Pine Bluff the services provided are competitive, and my company has a reputation for providing exceptional service in the most cost-effective manner. The client is free to choose the company that provides the best service, all records are public knowledge. The baseless allegations by Fox 16 are tantamount to character assignation under the protection of the press.

Concerning the bus station, the facility is not a club. It is a non-profit event center which the general public can rent for various activities i.e. birthday parties, family reunions etc... The facility is a part of Pine Bluff's Downtown Model Block Program funded by Community Development Block Grant Funds (CBBG-HUD). The city is currently undergoing a huge drive to revitalize the downtown area. I began restoration on the station for citizens of Pine Bluff to be afforded a decent facility without having to pay a thousand dollars, which is how much the average cost to rent an event center. The establishment has passed all inspections by the City of Pine Bluff's Inspection and Zoning Department. The non-profit event center is not issued an occupational license by the City of Pine Bluff. The statements concerning the facility lack of a license are simply misleading. There are no permits to be obtained. I have complied with all city regulations concerning this facility and was cleared to open in June of 2013.

I have refused all interviews and questions from the press concerning the incident out of respect for the family of the victim, but I must now speak.

I am a loyal citizen of Pine Bluff. I have hosted hundreds of events over the years for the youth of Pine Bluff and nothing like this ever happened. The safety of all citizens has always been my utmost priority. My heart goes out to the family of the victim. It saddens me that one event can damage the public's perception so quickly. I have tried to keep and maintain the public's trust, and one incident can destroy years of work and progress. The truth of the matter is that the young man in question was involved in a purchased/sale of a hand gun that went wrong prior to this incident. The victim and another patron had an altercation in regard to that transaction and were involved in a fight inside the facility, and as a result he was rendered unconscious. Security was onsite and broke up the fight within seconds. The young man was carried out of the building. He was placed in the care of several sane and coherent adults among them his brother and sister-in-law. The staff and police were under the assumption that they were taking him to the local hospital for treatment. However, it has come to light that several stops were made and instead of going to the hospital, they took him home. Based upon information from the Arkansas State Crime lab report, the injury from the punch that he received at the establishment was not the fatal injury. The cause of death was determined to have stemmed from being dropped while in care of his family. He was never taken to the hospital.

It is a tragedy when any life is loss. Senseless violence plagues every community in every town. And I am sorry that is happened and sorry for the mother's loss. However it is irresponsible to suggest that I had any involvement in this incident. Careless reporting, for the sake of sensationalism and shock value has no place in the fourth estate. All that has been accomplished is that there has been a reopening of wounds that have started to heal. Let me offer this in closing, news reporting should be done in a manner that informs, educates, and facilitates. It should never be the source of pain."

Lloyd A. Franklin II

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