Repeat offenders stymie law officers
The overall goal is to protect and serve the residents and visitors of the community, officials at the Benton Police Department said.
But officers are limited on keeping repeat criminal offenders from re-entering society by the court system, probation and parole boards, and even by state legislators — who write laws and vote on the enforcement of such laws. Law enforcement officers have the ability to arrest, or at least detain, people when laws are broken, but once they write a citation and/or take that person to the Saline County jail, that ends the scope of their abilities.
If someone gets out of a jail or prison cell and returns to the community only to continue committing crimes, all the law enforcement officers can do is make an arrest. It is the responsibility of prosecutors, judges, and parole boards — and legislators to a degree — to keep repeat offenders behind the jail or prison walls.
Chief Kirk Lane recently pointed out to The Saline Courier the history of a particular repeat criminal, 41-year-old Ricky Darnell Higgs — a Level 3 sex offender who has been in and out of jail cells and the Arkansas Department of Correction since 1994 for numerous violent crimes.
"We have had numerous dealings with Mr. Higgs through the years," said Lt. Kevin Russell, public information officer for the Benton Police Department. "Yes, there are a lot of incidents regarding him."
This Benton resident is currently on probation, until Nov. 10, for a 10-year sentence of two counts of sexual solicitation of a child and intimidating a witness. Higgs was sentenced for the offenses on Feb. 18, 2003, and released from prison on Aug. 10, 2007.
Before that he was convicted in May of 1994 for first-degree battery for an incident in Hot Spring County; coupled with a conviction of terroristic threatening, aggravated assault and firearm possession in April of 1995 in Saline County, Higgs was sentenced to 13 years in the ADC.
Several weeks ago — on Jan. 30 — Higgs was arrested for first-degree terroristic threatening, harassing communications, first-degree assault on a family member, first-degree criminal mischief, and disorderly conduct. According to a Benton police report, officers responded to the 2100 block of Penland for a disturbance on Jan. 27. The victim said after arguing with Higgs about "not wanting to be together anymore," he grabbed a knife and then went outside where he flattened all the tires on her vehicle. She said Higgs then jumped on top of her vehicle and kicked out the front and rear windows. When she tried to stop Higgs, he allegedly struck her in the back of her head several times and fled the area. A witness at the scene verified the victims' statement.
The victim also told police that Higgs threatened to "kill her and the kids if she goes to Little Rock" and that Higgs made similar statements in the past. Officers were not able to find Higgs that night, but obtained a warrant for his arrest.
"Through (detectives') investigation it was determined that Higgs threatened to kill his ex-girlfriend and caused approximately $500 worth of damage to her vehicle," Russell said. "There is also a parole hold on him at this time, and he is a registered sex offender."
After Higgs was released from the Saline County jail on a $5,000 bond, he appeared at the Parole and Probation office in Benton. The parole board approved releasing Higgs back into the community, even though he is subject to return to the Correction Department if he violates conditions of his parole.
Officials at the Parole and Probation office in Benton said they cannot speak to the media on individual cases. That position was echoed by Rhonda Sharp of the Arkansas Department of Community Correction.
"If there is a violation, the Department of Community Correction makes a recommendation to the parole board," Sharp said. "It is not unusual for a parolee not to return to (the ADC) until the charges have been adjudicated. Any parolee will make mistakes; the severity of the mistakes is what is used to determine if the parolee is to be incarcerated."
Chief Lane responded, "I'm disappointed in the parole system for making the decision to let him out and prey upon the people of Benton — and also tax the ability of the police department having to deal with him time and time again."
According to the mission statement of the Benton Police Department, officers are sworn "to create an atmosphere of safety and security in our community." Lane said every law enforcement agency not only make arrests, it catalogs the offender's criminal history.
"I think the Benton Police Department and other (law enforcement) agencies are basically responsible for managing Mr. Higgs' crimes ... we've made an ample track record of case files, apparently many, many times," the chief said.
A criminal history timeline from the Benton Police Department and ADC concerning Higgs is as follows:
•May 1994 — Higgs was found guilty of first-degree terroristic threatening in a Hot Spring County courtroom and sentenced to 10 years with the Arkansas Department of Correction.
•April 3, 1995 — Higgs was found guilty of terroristic threatening, aggravated assault and possession of a firearm by certain persons in a Saline County courtroom; he was sentenced to three additional years with the Correction Department.
•Jan. 1, 2002 — A woman said Higgs approached her vehicle, broke out the driver's side window and tried to pull her out, but she sped off. The victim said when she later arrived home — in the 500 block of South Main Street in Benton — she found clothing and her bed shredded. She also reported that Higgs had threatened her at a party the previous evening, but she did not call police at that time.
•Jan. 4, 2002 — A woman in the 500 block of S. Main St. told police that Higgs punctured the right front and rear tires of her roommate's vehicle, and then Higgs broke two windows at the rear of their home.
•Jan. 9, 2002 — A woman in the 500 block of South Main Street said Higgs called and threatened "to kill her and her children" and that she heard Higgs discharge a firearm. Higgs was arrested for first-degree terroristic threatening by Benton police.
•Jan. 11, 2002 — Victim in 500 block of South Main Street files order of protection against Higgs.
•Jan. 18, 2002 — Victim in 500 block of South Main Street told police that Higgs told her on a phone call that he was on the way to her home. Police arrived, but Higgs never arrived at the home.
•Jan. 21, 2002 — Two witnesses said Higgs threw a brick through the rear window of a vehicle, which was found to belong to the woman that filed the order of protection. The witnesses said Higgs ran from the area and described his clothing.
Officers reported finding Higgs at a home in the 700 block of Palm Street in Benton — wearing the described clothing, breathing heavily and sweating. Higgs reportedly said he used a pay phone at the Pit Stop and jogged home. Higgs was placed into custody for violation of an order of protection and second-degree criminal mischief.
•Feb. 1, 2002 — A complaint was made from the prosecuting attorney's office that Higgs intimidated a witness. Employee of Pit Stop on Edison Avenue said on Sept. 5, 2001, Higgs was arrested for third-degree domestic battery inside the store. Higgs was banned from the store. In December of 2001, employees said Higgs returned to the store on several occasions causing altercations, but often fled the area before officers could arrive. On Jan. 29, 2002, an employee said Higgs also told her "I will get you" the day after an arrest. The employee said Higgs threatened to "slit throats" and that she feared for her own safety.
•March 5, 2002 — Benton detectives send an affidavit to charge Higgs with first-degree stalking.
•April 28, 2002 — A 14-year-old girl said 31-year-old Higgs had sex with her on two occasions. In the police report, the girl said the first encounter happened when she rode her bicycle by Higgs' home in the 700 block of Palm Street. She said Higgs called her over and placed her bicycle behind the home "because he didn't want to get caught." She said Higgs then took her to a bedroom and got mad when she told him she didn't want to have sex. The report said the girl was intimidated and finally agreed to have sex, and that later Higgs told her not to tell anyone "because he didn't want to get caught up with the cops." The second sexual encounter occurred after she said Higgs called her on the phone and had her visit his home. She described Higgs' tattoos, and said that a few days later Higgs told her not to call him anymore. (According to www.bentonpolice.org on the sex offenders list, Higgs also disclosed during an interview to having another sexual offense involving another teenage female.)
•Feb. 18, 2003 — Higgs is found guilty of two counts of sexual solicitation of a child and intimidating a witness in a Saline County courthouse. He was sentenced to 10 years in the ADC. According to Higgs' treatment history, "Offender was terminated from a prison-based treatment program for sex offenders due to a rule violation. Offender completed a prison based substance abuse program." He was released from the ADC on Aug. 10, 2007, and remains on parole for the conviction until Nov. 10, 2012.
•Aug. 25, 2007 — Police are called to Higgs' home on Palm Street by probation and parole, who said Higgs' ankle monitor "was going off." Higgs' mother told officers that her son was not at home, but she called Higgs and he was at the home 10 minutes later, the report said.
•June 28, 2010 — A resident in the 200 block of Kenwood told Benton officers that Higgs struck her in the hip. The report said Higgs was told to stay away from the home or he would be charged with criminal trespass.
•July 18, 2010 — Two women report harassing communications by Higgs to Benton police.
•June 3, 2011 — Woman in 200 block of Kenwood reported Higgs was in the roadway arguing with her daughter. Higgs agreed to leave.
•July 4, 2011 — Higgs was arrested for DWI, leaving the scene of an accident, third-degree domestic battery, criminal mischief and resisting arrest. A witness said Higgs slapped a woman in a home in the 700 block of Desoto in Benton, broke the windshield of the woman's vehicle, and then took away her cell phone. The woman also wrote in a statement that Higgs pushed and hit her while she was holding her daughter, broke her phone, knocked off his vehicle side mirror and then broke the windshield on her vehicle. The report noted that Higgs wrecked his vehicle a few blocks away from where he was arrested, that he was Tased when he got aggressive with officers and refused to get into a patrol vehicle.
•Sept. 3, 2011 — Higgs was cited for first-degree criminal mischief for damaging a vehicle and phone of a resident in the 700 block of Desoto in Benton.
•Between Sept. 20 and Oct. 22 of 2011 — Officers responded four times to the 700 block of Desoto for a domestic disturbance, but no arrests were made.
•Jan. 28, 2012 — A woman filed a report at the Benton Police Department in which she claimed that Higgs called her 50 times in seven hours. She reportedly said after telling Higgs that their relationship was over that Higgs allegedly said if she went to Little Rock, he would "kill her and the kids." She also told officers that Higgs made similar statements in the past and "never acted on them, but is afraid he might," the report said. Police issued a warrant for the arrest of Higgs.
•Jan. 30, 2012, Higgs was arrested for the Jan. 28 incident. Higgs was charged with first-degree terroristic threatening, harassing communications, first-degree assault on a family member, first-degree criminal mischief, and disorderly conduct.
In Febuary, a parole board decided to allow Higgs to remain free.
When asked if a repeat criminal offender like Higgs poses a danger to the residents of Benton, Russell and Lane said they are highly disappointed in the actions of the parole board.
"I don't have any insight as to what (parole) does or doesn't do, I can just speak from our side of things, our viewpoint," Russell said. "It is a big concern from the law enforcement side of things, because these people can be a danger to society, and of course we are out there trying to protect society as much as possible. It can be a little bit disheartening whenever things like this occur, but I can assure everyone that to the best of our power, officers are out there doing what we can do to alleviate this problem."
Lane added, "We provide information to parole boards, and we've actually been working with legislators to look at this problem directly. And we utilize our public information officers to promote arrests that have repeat offenders — parolees and sex offenders — to let the public know, so residents can be fully aware of their surroundings."
In the meantime Sharp promotes programs like The Omega Center, "a prison alternative sanction for parole technical violators (in Malvern) that will house male technical violators."
She said the "intervention" program houses up to 300 men that violate parole, and that they stay an average of 60 to 90 days. However, Sharp was not able to say if Higgs qualifies for the program or if he has participated in the program before.
Higgs is scheduled to appear in Benton District Court at 1 p.m. on March 13 in connection with the Jan. 28 incident.