Inmate in Earle Police cruiser crash suing city

Man wants $50,000 for claimed injuries

By Mark Randall news@theeveningtimes.com

Earle is being sued for $50,000 by an inmate who claims he was injured when the police car transporting him rear ended a vehicle. Dewayne Buntin was in custody in the back seat on July 31 when the officer apparently hit a vehicle in front which had stopped suddenly at a yield sign on Hwy. 149 and 64. The driver of the car that was hit left the scene of the accident. The incident was investigated by Arkansas State Police which found that the police officer was talking to Buntin at the time and was distracted when he rear ended the car in front. The report noted, however, that there was no damage to either vehicle and that the vehicle which the officer rear ended had previous damage to the brake light which made it difficult to see that it had stopped. No paramedics were called to the scene and it is unclear whether Buntin reported any injury at the time. Buntin did, however, see a doctor and according to medical records received physical therapy with Delta CrossRidge Community Hospital and Delta Orthopedics Sports Medicine. Buntin’s attorney sent the city a letter on Dec. 10 offering to settle for $50,000. But according to city attorney Davis Loftin, Buntin’s medical claims appear to be suspicious and need further investigation. The medical reports note constant neck and shoulder pain, but Loftin said there is no record that Buntin complained of any injury at the time and did not see a doctor until mid-August. “On August 19 he went to the doctor. But I don’t know what happened from July 31 to August 31,” Loftin told the city council. “He had the right to be seen by a doctor. We don’t know if he asked for that or not. So that is the first thing I want to find out. It does say he saw somebody. But until we do a little more research, I can’t tell you too much.” Loftin also said the medical bills only add up to $1,000. “The medical bills are less than $1,000,” Loftin said. “They’re offering to settle. They know they are not going to get that. Normally, you’re only talking about doubling that as a real settlement with an insurance carrier. So $50,000 is just something they have thrown out there.” City Councilwoman Jimmie Barham questioned why the council was just hearing about the accident in December and not July when it occurred. “Did we know about this when it happened?” Barham asked. “To hear about this in December, we’ve had no knowledge of this and this happened in July?” Loftin said the council would not have known about the lawsuit because Buntin’s lawyer did not request the medical records until November and did not send a letter to the city offering to settle until December 10. “So there is no way the city council would have known about this in November,” Loftin said. “And he (Buntin) made no complaints he was hurt.” Earle Police Department Capt. Fitzgerald Couch told the council that there is nothing in the trooper’s report that says Buntin was injured. “As far as the subject we had in custody, there was no compliant of any pain or anything major,” Couch said. “No paramedics were dispatched for any reason. Once he got down to the jail, we didn’t receive any calls saying he was injured. So I just started hearing about him suing.” Couch said while the officer was distracted, the brake lights on the vehicle he rear ended were damaged from a previous accident. “He was talking to him and was distracted,” Couch said. “The officer came around the curve and the driver in front acted as if she was going to pull out at the yield sign but stopped. There was red tape covering the damage. The tape made the light nearly impossible to see. So you couldn’t tell the brake lights were on. And he just tapped her. There was no damage.” Barham asked whether the city needed to refer the matter to their lawyer at the Municipal League. It costs the city $3,000 to defend a case. The city already has two lawsuits it must defend and had to cash in a certificate of deposit to make budget. “I’m not a lawyer,” Barham said. “If you feel you can handle it, I won’t pursue it any more.” Loftin advised the city not to refer the case for legal representation with the Municipal League until he has more information. “We’re going to do some more research,” Loftin said. “The car was stopped. Our officer hit it. There was no damage to either vehicle. I just can’t see how somebody has been damaged $50,000.”

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