Cops kill homeless man in Fayetteville, Arkansas FWD

Tom Boland (
Fri, 19 Feb 1999 14:19:20 -0800 (PST)

FWD 19 Feb 1999 via <>


  Five police officers were involved in standoff,
  four took part in shooting

  By DON MICHAEL- NW Arkansas Times (Fayetteville AR) Staff Writer

A Fayetteville police official says a hail of bullets fired by four
officers at an armed transient Wednesday evening was a justified use of
lethal force.

Police Chief Richard Watson in a press conference Thursday afternoon said
he supported the actions of the officers involved in the shooting, which
killed 39-year-old Vernon Don Whiteside Jr. The officers involved in the
incident were all placed on administrative leave with pay on Thursday and
were scheduled to attend a special stress-management debriefing Thursday
afternoon, Watson said he expects the officers, whom he described as
"fine," when asked their condition, to be back on active patrol today.

A shooting team - four ranking officers charged with investigating
incidents of deadly force - concluded Thursday the officers involved acted
within departmental guidelines. Lts. Tracey Risley, Greg Tabor and Tim
Helder - supervisors of the patrol, detective and administrative divisions
- as well as Assistant Police Chief Rick Hoyt, conducted the in-house

Whiteside was causing a problem at the Salvation Army on 15th Street when
he brandished a double-barrel derringer at officers who arrived at the
disturbance, according to a police report. Whiteside fled on foot into a
nearby wooded area with police in pursuit. Whiteside was finally cornered
at his shanty in the woods adjacent to 19th Street. Watson said the suspect
lowered his gun at one point, but raised it again, pointing it at the
officers and a K-9 on the scene. The officers fired about five rounds at
Whiteside, who died a few minutes later.

"The officers, in my opinion, were justified to fire upon him the first
time he pulled the weapon," Watson said. While the internal investigation
has concluded, Fayetteville police are still anticipating a report from
Arkansas State Police Investigator Bill Baskin.

Baskin said he is awaiting the results of an autopsy on Whiteside's body at
the Arkansas State Crime Lab. Additionally, he said ballistics reports will
be conducted by the lab on the four .40-caliber handguns used by three of
the officers in the shooting, as well as a shotgun that was also used.
Whiteside's derringer is also being examined.

Today, Baskin said he plans to interview the four officers involved in the
shooting and an additional one who was on the scene during the standoff.

Watson said a K-9 deployed to track down Whiteside was loose at the time of
the shooting. While Whiteside yelled unintelligible remarks at police, his
silver derringer was loaded, but the homeless man never fired a round
during the confrontation, Watson said. Officers unsuccessfully attempted to
resuscitate Whiteside after he was hit. He died a few minutes after the
first shots rang out at 5 p.m.

Don Montgomery, director of the local Salvation Army, thought Whiteside had
been drinking, and even asked him if he'd been consuming alcohol.
Montgomery said Whiteside told him, "that's none of your business."

Local investigators left the scene of the shooting shortly before 11 on

Baskin said it will be about a week before the Crime Lab has a preliminary
report on Whiteside's death, and may be a month or longer before the rest
of the forensic evaluations have been completed. Baskin finished report
will be handed over to District Prosecutor Terry Jones.

In a miniature, forgotten shantytown, a troubled life ends violently in

By DON MICHAEL-Times Staff Writer

Vernon Don Whiteside Jr. made his home among the nameless - in a wooded
community of tents and shanties that most Fayetteville residents either
don't know about or like to forget.

Paranoid and terrified of the police, Whiteside's sister said he had lived
at the creekside campsite since July of last year, when he moved from a
nearby apartment. Medication, used to treat his paranoid schizophrenia, was
found at the blood-stained scene early Thursday morning, the day after his
life ended in a barrage of bullets climaxing a pursuit and standoff with
local police.

In many respects, Whiteside's 39 years had been one of brushes with the law
and poverty. Convicted of the 1978 armed robbery of a Springdale motel, he
would later get into an altercation with Fayetteville police that landed
him in jail. But it was Wednesday's deadly confrontation that fulfilled
Whiteside's vow to never again return to prison.

A home among the trees

Nestled among the woods of south Fayetteville, unseen by most residents, a
commune of the city's refugees make their homes in a collection of
makeshift tents constructed from tarps and tree limbs. Usually quiet and
reluctant to talk to outsiders, one of their inhabitants, with his death,
broke the silence Wednesday.

Don Montgomery, director of the local Salvation Army chapter, said he'd
known of the campsites in the miniature shantytown for years, though much
of Fayetteville is ignorant of its existence.

"They've been there a long time," Montgomery said Thursday. "I just don't
know them by name."

The Salvation Army serves as a source for food and showers for inhabitants
of this commune, he said, but the transients usually turn down offers to
stay overnight.

"Most of the guys that stay there are kind of to themselves, and they don't
say much to us when they're here," he said.

Once in a while, bad weather will lead one of them to the dry shelter on
15th Street, but once it passes, they're gone.

"I think most of the people in Fayetteville are unaware," Montgomery said
of the homeless community. "I think most of it is, they don't want to think
about it."

Calvin George Davis made his home in the woods along 19th Street last
August, spending his days collecting cans and selling them for 25 cents a
pound. Davis lives in a tent made of aluminum and a blue tarp, and
sometimes gets money from passersby on South School Street. In December, a
man drove up and gave him a $100 bill.

"He handed me a $100 bill and said, 'You have a nice day,' then drove on
down the road," he said. "I don't know who he was."

Another benefactor to the dwellers along 19th Street is the owner of the
property where they make their homes. Don England Sr. often gives the men
pancake mix or firewood. Once he gave him two cases of Vienna sausages.

Montgomery said the men who live in the woods don't seem to want anything

"We've offered some of them to live in the shelter, and they chose not to,"
he said. "They like that kind of lifestyle."

Growing paranoia

In July of last year, Vernon Don Whiteside joined the 19th Street
shantytown after moving from a South School Street apartment. He moved in
just 15 feet from a man named Leon who's lived in the woods for almost 10
years, according to England.

Whiteside's sister, Lorena Sisemore of Springdale, said her brother had
been diagnosed a paranoid schizophrenic, and often wrote poems and essays
and made drawings.

Workers and residents at the Salvation Army noticed his growing paranoia,
saying Wednesday he acted as though someone was out to get him. He
apparently had some Salvation Army workers believing his campsite was
booby-trapped, a claim Fayetteville police learned wasn't true after
calling in the Springdale Bomb Squad.

Police had responded to the Salvation Army after Whiteside was involved in
an altercation with a desk clerk. When officers arrived, he brandished a
double-barrel derringer and then fled into the woods.

Once he arrived at his campsite, Sisemore said her brother probably
believed he was safe from the police, who he'd been terrified of since an
earlier run-in last May.

When officers tracked him to his shanty, he refused to put down his weapon
and was eventually shot by four of the officers. He died minutes later,
next to Leon's tent.

Montgomery said Whiteside's demeanor fit that of the other transients along
19th Street.

"Most of the time he's been really quiet."

A makeshift stove and chimney made of clay probably kept Whiteside warm
during the recent colder months. A stack of firewood sat next to canned
foods strewn inside the tent. A couple of blankets thrown on top of a
wooden pallet apparently served as Whiteside's bed.

Packed away among the belongings he left behind was a life science book, a
biology textbook, a world atlas and a Bible.

Sisemore said her brother had been increasingly paranoid of police in
recent months. He had been in prison, she explained, and was terrified of
going back.

"His main goal in life was, 'I'm not going back to prison,'" she said.

A life of crime

Incarcerated for much of the 1980s, Whiteside's criminal history is long
and sordid.

"He got started when he was 17," said Jeff Harper, city attorney in
Springdale, where Whiteside used to live.

Several charges show up on Whiteside's file with Springdale authorities.
Among them are battery, criminal mischief, indecent exposure, disorderly
conduct, several public intoxications and public sexual indecency.

In 1978, Whiteside pleaded guilty to two purse snatchings, and within a
year, he was convicted of breaking into Westside Shoe Store in Springdale
with two other men and was sentenced to three years in prison.

The big arrest came in 1980.

Acting on an anonymous tip, detectives with the Arkansas State Police - who
were investigating the Jan. 30, 1980, armed robbery of a Springdale motel -
obtained a search warrant for Whiteside's apartment.

Inside, they found a 9mm pistol and a .38 caliber revolver believed to be
used in the robbery, a green hunting suit and toboggan hat with two eye
holes cut in it, which matched the description of the robber. Police also
reported finding a map of the motel and its surrounding area drawn on a
piece of cardboard.

Whiteside pleaded guilty a few months later to aggravated robbery and was
sentenced to 30 years in prison. He had made off with more than $200 from
the motel register.

According to Dina Tyler, spokeswoman for the Arkansas Department of
Correction, Whiteside served time in prison until he was paroled on April
4, 1988. Tyler said he was sent back to the penitentiary in 1993 for
failing to report to his parole officer. He was discharged about seven
months later.

A foreboding altercation

On May 22, 1998, Fayetteville police pursued Whiteside in an incident
similar to one that would turn deadly this week.

Officer Scott Stidman was responding to an attempted suicide in south
Fayetteville when he noticed a man who appeared to be intoxicated, walking
through the parking lot.

Stidman approached the man, who was drinking a can of orange soda, and
asked him if he was doing OK. Things turned worse when Stidman asked the
man what he was doing.

"The subject became wild-eyed looking at me and said, 'Whatever the hell I
want to,'" the officer wrote in his report.

Stidman then asked if he had any identification, and the man reportedly
said, "I don't got to show you s***." He later refused to tell the officer
his name, saying, "Uh-uh, I ain't telling you nothing."

According to Stidman's report, the man who would later be identified as
Vernon Whiteside threw his can of soda at the officer and ran.

Stidman and another officer ran after Whiteside, who eventually jumped a
fence. Stidman wrote that when he started climbing the fence, it looked
like Whiteside was going to grab him and pull him over, so he threw his
flashlight at him, striking him in the chest.

Another officer on the other side of the fence then began to order
Whiteside to the ground, which he refused to do. Stidman states the other
officer kicked Whiteside in the thigh, but he remained upright and acted as
though he was ready to fight with them.

The officers eventually sprayed Whiteside with pepper spray, subdued him
and took him to the Fayetteville Police Department, where he was arrested
on charges of fleeing, loitering, second-degree assault and carrying a
knife as a weapon. Stidman wrote that as Whiteside was receiving treatment
for the spray, he complained about the police.

"He was extremely verbally abusive, yelling and screaming that we had
beaten him and that he had not done anything wrong and was calling me a
liar continuously while he was being given the water," Stidman wrote in his

Whiteside was later convicted of the offenses and fined $500.

He hadn't yet finished paying off his fines when he engaged in another
altercation with police on Wednesday, this time ending his life.

"I don't blame the police," his sister said Thursday. "They were just doing
their job."


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