DEATH OF A RECRUIT: Video shows moments leading up to JPD officer’s death at training academy

Updated: Feb. 23, 2023 at 10:00 PM CST
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JONESBORO, Ark. (KAIT) - The family of a fallen Jonesboro police recruit is demanding accountability seven months after he died on his first day at the academy.

“He wanted to find a career that not only would better his family, but give back to his family and he settled on being a police officer after thinking about it for many years,” the widow of Jonesboro Police Officer Vincent Parks, said. “He had always wanted to do it.”

A recently filed lawsuit by the family of Parks blames the academy, and its instructors for his death. The lawsuit claims the death of Vincent “Vinny” Parks was an act of negligence.

READ: Full lawsuit here

Parks’ family wants the loss they experienced never to happen again.

“He had the biggest smile,” Christina said. “He was the great husband, father, son that anybody could ask for.”

The widow of Officer Parks remembered her husband as she shared her story with Region 8 News anchor and investigative reporter Chris Carter.

At 38 years old, the Jonesboro native made a career change by joining the Jonesboro Police Department as a patrol officer.

“There was no hesitation,” she said. “He jumped in with both feet and he was ready to do it.”

Officer Parks was hired in June 2022.

He would serve for just one month.

Parks’ tour of duty ended on Sunday, July 17, 2022, when he died during his first day at the Central Arkansas Law Enforcement Academy at Camp Robinson in North Little Rock.

“He loved his family and he loved everything he did,” Christina said. “He looked forward to being a police officer with the Jonesboro Police Department and unfortunately that was taken from him.”

In videos provided by the Parks’ family attorney, Jim Jackson, of North Little Rock, they claim the academy and its instructors subjected Officer Parks and his fellow officers to “physical hazing” beginning immediately upon arrival at the training academy.

Described in the lawsuit as the “number one recruit in his Jonesboro Police Department class,” Attorney Jackson provided Region 8 News with multiple videos from July 17.

In one of them, Jackson said you see Officer Parks showing signs of heat illness and heat stroke, pointing out the “veins enlarged on his forehead.”

Parks’ widow was shocked when she saw the videos.

“I see my husband struggling and I can clearly see it and everyone that watches it can clearly see it and how could they not see it and actual medical staff and people who are supposed to take care of your significant other when they come to train at a facility like this,” she said.

In the 61-page lawsuit, Jackson and Parks’ widow accused the academy and training Academy Supervisor, Joe Duboise, of “lies and cover ups” in Officer Parks Death.

According to the lawsuit, the academy downplayed the seriousness of Parks’ death.

His wife described what she was told when she was called.

“We needed to come pick him up and bring him up, and re-evaluate the situation and try and bring him back in maybe in a week and when he got there, he was dead.”

In initial statements to the media, the Arkansas Department of Public Safety, which oversees the academy, said Parks began showing signs of “medical distress” before “an initial exercise regimen began”.

Lawmakers and Jonesboro Police Chief Rick Elliott immediately questioned that information.

Arkansas State Police launched an investigation after it learned new facts “contrary” to the initial statements by the Department of Public Safety.

“I think that he is going to be in safe hands. I think that I am sending my husband, my child’s father to this academy that they are going to be the best police officer he can be and the negligence there took his life,” Christina said. “When I got down there, he had already passed so maybe within 45 minutes of being in the hands of these instructors, he was killed.”

The lawsuit claims the academy and its instructors provided wrong information to “cover up the horrible conditions that Officer Parks and the other new officers were put through by Central ALETA’s instructors, which directly caused Officer Parks’ death.”

Arkansas State Police eventually turned over the investigation to the Pulaski County Prosecutor, who declined to file charges but did point out a culture of hazing at the North Little Rock training academy.

“They just failed every one of them on every level and it is a wonder no one else got hurt that day,” Officer Parks’ widow said.

According to the lawsuit, the videos provided by the Parks family attorney were shot by “former participants, " which said the former recruits were recording the activities with their cell phones to “video Joe Duboise leading the new officers through senseless hazing activities.”

Also listed in the suit is instructor Amanda Chaney.

It says Chaney told Officer Parks and other recruits they would not be allowed to complete training if “any officers made an injury report for an medical issue.”

It also claims recruits were told to “suffer in silence”.

In one of the videos provided by the Parks family attorney, you can see EMT’s and others gathered around Officer Parks after he fell to the ground.

In the background, you can hear instructors yelling at other recruits, as they continue to engage in physical activities.

“Do you hold the instructors, and the academy fully responsible for Vinny’s death?” Carter asked.

“Absolutely,” Christina replied. “The lack of medical care that he received, just the delay of everything. Nobody taking it seriously from the top to the bottom all the way from the directors to the EMS staff. There was a failure on every level to intervene and it could have definitely saved his life.”

The death of Officer Parks has prompted a push for change. Arkansas lawmakers introduced legislation to prevent a training tragedy from happening again.

The Vincent Parks law would require training to recognize health conditions at academies and explain how a medical condition should be dealt with.

It is a start for Christina Parks.

“I don’t want anyone to experience this or anybody’s child to experience what we have experience and so, there needs to be some policies in place and that is why we have pushed for policies to be put in place so that people can be held accountable,” she said. “I just want the people who are responsible to be held responsible and for changes to be made This does not have to happen again.”

Four other recruits from the Jonesboro Police Department were at the academy in North Little Rock. They were pulled.

It was the first time JPD had ever sent new officers to the facility.

An autopsy report found Parks died from a sickle cell crisis along with heart disease and obesity. His family disputes that... and said he was cleared by a doctor.

They are seeking $5 million in damage.

The Department of Public Safety declined to comment on our story.