Trumann fires detective involved in Chief Rusher investigation

TRUMANN, AR (KAIT) - The city of Trumann is short another police officer after the city council fired a detective involved in the Chief Rusher investigation.

According to Trumann Mayor Sheila Walters, detective Erik Willbanks was fired from the Trumann police force Wednesday afternoon.

Interim chief Gary Henry said  the department is still feeling the ripple effect of the investigation nearly one month after Tony Rusher resigned from his position as police chief.

"We're short-handed," said Henry. "So I've got seems like a hundred times more things to do and take care of, and more pressure than what I'm used to."

Former detective Willbanks said he knew coming forward about Rusher taking prescription medications from the department's evidence locker for personal use would cost him his job, but he does not regret it.

Willbanks was suspended for two weeks without pay on February 28 as a result of the investigation.

"I was just scared to go forward and say anything because I was the only one that knew," he said.

What Willbanks said he does regret is waiting years to go to authorities about Rusher. According to investigation documents, Willbanks told the private investigator he noticed a problem with Chief Rusher beginning two years ago.

The report says Rusher repeatedly asked Willbanks whether pills in the evidence room had been through court. Willbanks said he witnessed Rusher take hydrocodone that matched Rusher's prescription from the evidence room.

"Had it been somebody on my equal level, no, I would've never let them in there but when your boss comes to you and says 'Let me in there for this, or do we have anything that's gone through court that's going to be destroyed?' I knew it was wrong. I wanted to say something," Willbanks said.

According to the report, Willbanks decided to tell Assistant Chief Gary Henry about Rusher after Willbanks witnessed Rusher preparing to take home bottles of liquid morphine and fentanyl patches that were meant to be destroyed by the police.

While former detective Willbanks figures out his future, interim chief Henry is left with cleaning up the mess at the department and trying to make sure it doesn't happen again.

"For the last seven years I've focused everything on that job," Willbanks said. "I'm not sure if I want to get back in law enforcement."

"I've been looking back through the policies and procedures, talking with the current detectives right now about our policies and procedures, how we're going to change things specifically evidence handling and things like that," interim chief Henry said.

Henry said the department is working on regaining the trust of residents in the city.

"We're just trying to make sure that everybody understands that we're still here. We're still all on the job and that we're trying to do the best we can do for the citizens of Trumann, and for everybody else – to protect their property, protect lives, we're still here to do this same job."

District Prosecuting Attorney Scott Ellington turned the city's internal investigation of Rusher over to Arkansas State Police.  Arkansas State Police have not said whether they will open a criminal investigation.

Copyright 2012 KAIT. All rights reserved.