Prosecutor explains decision to not proceed with involuntary commitment for Johnny Kelley

JONESBORO, AR (KAIT) - Second Judicial Prosecuting Attorney Scott Ellington is defending his office's decision to not have a man involuntarily committed... weeks before the man was involved in a deadly altercation with the Trumann police chief.

49-year-old Johnny Joe Kelley was killed after Arkansas State Police said he shot Trumann Police Chief Chad Henson on Friday, Aug 3.
ASP said Henson was asked to visit Kelley at his mobile home on Kassinger Lane. Kelley shot Henson and Henson fired back killing the man. Henson survived.

According to an e-mail from Detective William Holmes, Liz Wagner, case coordinator Ellington's office, said: "she did not believe that the level had been met in which a judge would sign off on an involuntary commitment."

Ellington told Region 8 News on Tuesday that Wagner's decision was based on numerous factors.

He said while Kelley's behavior was strange, it didn't rise to the level to allow the state to involuntarily commit Kelley.

Ellington said his staff handles these kinds of issues every day.

"I'm confident in how we handle those," Ellington said referring to involuntary commitment petitions. "We know how the judge looks at them and what they require. I'm not questioning how they [Ellington's staff] do it, because they do it every day."

Ellington explained to Region 8 News the extensive process to get someone committed. It starts with an affidavit.

Family members or another person, as was Kelley's case, will fill out an affidavit detailing specific issues involving the person they hope to get involuntarily committed.

The details must outline how the person is either threatening themselves or threatening to harm other people.

"The court must find clear and present danger to another person or to themselves at the time," Ellington explained.

If a judge feels that threshold has been met, the judge will order law enforcement officials to detain the person for 72 hours. The person would be evaluated at a mental health facility.

A mental health professional would determine if medication would help, allowing the person to be released after being treated, or whether they need to be held longer.

If the person needs to be held longer, a new hearing must happen, Ellington said. The hearing would include a new affidavit to consider holding the person for a longer period of time.

"It's a process to protect the rights, to protect the civil liberties of any individual before a family member or any individual tries to come up and have someone committed on a mental health basis," Ellington explained.

In Kelley's case, two issues arose. First, the affidavit, filed by Detective William Holmes relayed second-hand information from ASP Trooper Dwight Griffith.

"The law requires that the individual filing the affidavit has to see this with their own eyes," Ellington said. "The affidavit presented to our office needed to be presented on the personal knowledge of an individual who observed the actions first hand."

The second issue, Ellington said, was with Kelley's statements. While his behavior was erratic and his statements were bizarre, Ellington said no specific threats were made.

"Allegations about conspiracies does not mean they are threatening people," Ellington said.

Ellington says his staff deals with issues pertaining to families wanting to involuntarily commit a loved one every day.  He's confident his staff made the best decision with the information presented to them at the time.

Ellington did stress that law enforcement also did what they had to do, but unfortunately, it didn't rise to the level of committing Kelley involuntarily.

Copyright 2018 KAIT. All rights reserved.