CLOVER BEND, AR (KAIT) – A farmer accused of illegally gating off a public road was in court on Friday.
Stan Jones faced a misdemeanor charge for obstructing a highway or a public passage. His case was continued until March 20.
The Lawrence County farmer claims he just wanted to help keep people safe, but police say what he did was a crime.
Jones, a farmer from Clover Bend, built gates to block a public road that runs through his farmland near the Black River. The move has angered residents.
On September 5, a judge ordered Jones to open the gates by the end of the day. If he didn't, Jones would be fined $500 plus face 30 days in jail for each day the gates are closed according to Lawrence County Sheriff Jody Dotson.
Jones says he took matters into his own hands to protect drivers. He recently had two heavy-duty gates built to close a rural road that connects the Shirey Bay wildlife management area to the Strangers Home community.
"It's not to stop anybody. That's not it at all," Jones said about the gates. "It's just that I fear somebody is going to get hurt, and it is my property. I think you know who's going to be responsible for that and so this is what my legal counsel told me to do."
Jones' private property may run alongside the road, but County Judge Dale Freeman says county crews have been responsible for maintaining this road for more than 50 years.
Jones says the river keeps eating away the road, making it more of a hazard as each year passes.
"I've made efforts to try to talk to people in higher positions to come and repair the road," he said, "and it's going to take a substantial amount of money and no one has the money available to fix it."
No matter what he claims his intentions were, deputies say closing the road himself was illegal. The Lawrence County Sheriff's Department charged Jones Monday for obstructing a highway or other public passage, which is a Class C misdemeanor.
"You just don't shut a road down that's been there forever and say okay, you can't go through here no more," Robert Pratt said. "That's just not legally right for me or the rest of the public in Lawrence County or anybody else in the state of Arkansas as far as that's concerned."
Pratt was one of many area residents that complained about the gates to county officials.
"They ought to come down here with a trackhoe this afternoon and take them down as far as I'm concerned," Pratt said. "I don't have nothing against Stan, but it's just that he done this for his benefit and his benefit only."
Jones says if the county asks him to remove the gates, he'll do it but under one condition.
"If someone will come in and fix the rock and stuff that needs to be wrapped in the river and fix the hole to where it's a safe road to travel – absolutely," he said.
The judge set a court date for October 25.