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I've written many stories over the decades about law enforcement, some positive, others not so much.

The majority have dealt with miscarriages of justice that sometimes led to wrongful arrests and convictions. Other times they exposed the guilty who'd avoided prosecution. I discovered one judge continuing DWI cases until they simply vanished from the docket and instances where crucial evidence mysteriously disappeared.

Today I'm darned near ecstatic to write about a police chief and his department that chose the honorable path after, he said, two detectives mishandled evidence.

I've always believed in offering admiration I believe is justified. Not nearly enough praise for responsible police behavior happens in the media nowadays.

Bella Vista Police Chief James Graves fired detectives Clayton Roberts and Mike Kugler amid an investigation into discrepancies he said were found with evidence the two handled. Graves wouldn't elaborate since the investigation by the Benton County sheriff's office is ongoing.

What is known, according to a news account by reporter Keith Bryant, is that both detectives were dismissed on Dec. 20 based on what Graves said was uncovered and "code of conduct violations."

The extent of this alleged mishandling and the potential impact on cases yet to be prosecuted (and potentially all cases worked by Roberts and Kugler) remains unknown as an audit and investigation continue.

Suffice to say, this chief acted as a leader in any law enforcement agency should when he chose to tackle the matter head on and publicly.

Benton County prosecutor Nathan Smith told the reporter this investigation is two-pronged: to learn if crimes were committed, and to learn how many criminal cases might be affected by allegedly mishandled evidence.

When the smoke clears, potential effects on evidence in any case will be disclosed to each defendant's attorney (and I presume to lawyers with previously convicted clients). Smith said most of those affected thus far appear to be drug cases.

To that I'd add the obvious: If drug evidence was altered, removed or otherwise mishandled from a supposedly secure police locker, what's to restrain those so inclined from meddling in even more serious cases?

Smith put that another way: "Are there cases out there that Bella Vista has worked that, because of the mishandling of evidence, can't be prosecuted or have to be addressed some other way?"

Smith shares my compliment to the chief, saying he's pleased to see the department taking the initiative to resolve the matter openly. Having a problem is one thing. How one chooses to respond is another, he said.

"At this point, the criminal investigation is still ongoing. It's a significant issue that we're going to have to deal with," Smith told Bryant. "I think Bella Vista should be commended for being above-board about it."

I say every law enforcement agency without question should take careful note of how well Bella Vista is dealing with its problem and always follow that path.

Still their queen

It is the frigid winter of 1955 in little Alpena. Beautiful 16-year-old Glenna Jones Ragan has been elected homecoming queen, and her crowning is to take place during a coming basketball game.

The teenager is excited to have the glistening tiara pinned gently atop her dark hair before family, her court and dozens of classmates she'd known from early childhood. Afterwards, of course, there would be the dance and festivities on her magical night as a queen.

Then comes the sad news: Heavy snowfall has canceled the game and the homecoming altogether. The game couldn't be rescheduled that season, which meant an understandably crushed Glenna wound up graduating and leaving before ever being crowned.

Flash-forward 62 years to homecoming in Alpena on Dec. 15, 2017. The Alpena Leopards were busy defeating the New School from Fayetteville in a game played before this year's high school royalty.

And there, amid this latest ceremony and contest stood Glenna, now in her 80s, finally wearing that tiara on hair now turned snow white, perched perfectly above her still pretty, smiling face.

It had taken beyond a long time for her life's special moment to finally arrive. But on this evening, the owner of Holt Memorial Chapel in Harrison, stood beaming, as she always does, beside Lexi Olmedo, this year's queen and her court.

Glenna, also now a published poet, spoke softly in heartfelt gratitude to the crowded gymnasium about her many fond memories and affections for the school, the community and former classmates. Many now are departed.

The stirring reaction from the people of Alpena had to have helped make up for the deep disappointment Glenna must have felt in the frozen week everything slid past her back in 1955.

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Mike Masterson is a longtime Arkansas journalist. Email him at mmasterson@arkansasonline.com.

Editorial on 01/07/2018

Print Headline: Taking high road

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