THE PROSECUTOR in Benton County-Van Stone-has been handed a tough assignment: Find out just how, and why, James Ahern was shot to death in Bella Vista on the night of January 20th.
Mr. Stone is taking his time, analyzing every possible piece of evidence, before deciding how he will proceed in this sensitive case, for it involves a corporal on the Bella Vista police force-Coleman Brackney.
The prosecuting attorney’s deliberation has led to the usual spate of internet rumors about a cover-up. Anybody who knows Mr. Stone also knows nothing could be further from the truth.
Few prosecuting attorneys are more dedicated to getting it right than is Van Stone. Those spreading such nonsense would do well to ask themselves how they would handle his job: slowly, carefully, deliberatively-or by jumping to a conclusion.
This was bound to be a high-profile case from the moment Corporal Brackney chose to stop the 41-year-old Mr. Ahern, whose Mazda Miata convertible had slid into a roadside ditch. The officer wound up pulling the trigger on his sidearm. Why? It’s a question that demands a clear answer, not a hasty accusation.
The residents of any peaceful retirement community can be counted on to pay close attention when one of their own is killed in such unsettling circumstances. And the folks at Bella Vista are no exception.
It hasn’t helped that this case has been handled with considerable secrecy from the beginning, much of it needless. Ken Farmer, the city’s police chief, even withheld Corporal Brackney’s name for four days after the shooting. That kind of silence is fertile ground for rumor and speculation, especially when an investigation drags on silently for more than six weeks.
For the moment the public has a lot more questions than answers. But in the end, Prosecutor Stone’s options are limited. Essentially they will boil down to three choices: Charge the officer with a homicide, submit his findings to a grand jury and let that body decide whether to indict, or decline to file charges.
When the time comes later this month, Mr. Stone has to be able to justify his choice to the public and/or a grand jury. Whatever his decision, people need to feel confident that their prosecutor has addressed every question and based his decision on hard facts. It is not a decision to be hurried.
Right now, the prosecutor awaits the results of additional forensic testing from the State Crime Laboratory. Its report may support or refute Corporal Brackney’s version of what happened during those fateful moments after he stopped Mr. Ahern’s car. Meanwhile, Bella Vista police are completing an internal investigation of their own.
The full story should emerge soon enough in this highly visible case, and, if we know Van Stone, it will be an account that’s well-supported by the facts.