Arkansas cities, counties unite in opioid lawsuit
JONESBORO — Faulkner County looks to expand its fight to stem the opioid epidemic and they want the pharmaceutical industry to pay for it.
But to get there, they have to prevail in a complicated lawsuit that's pending in Crittenden County Circuit Court.
All 75 Arkansas counties, as well as 16 of the state's largest cities are listed as plaintiffs in the lawsuit, filed by 2nd Judicial Circuit Prosecutor Scott Ellington, against 60 manufacturers, distributors, stores and individuals. The case was originally filed in March 2018 and amended twice after that.
The lawsuit doesn't spell out how much money they want to collect from the companies, but they cite the costs cities and counties have incurred increased emergency response costs, law enforcement costs and the cost of incarceration and court expenses involved with prosecuting drug-related crimes.
While no dollar figure has been specified, attorneys representing the cities and counties told Circuit Judge Pamela Honeycutt during a hearing Wednesday in Jonesboro their litigation is modeled after a suit in Oklahoma that netted a $572 million judgment against most of the same defendants.
But lawyers defending the companies accused the cities and counties of “a complete stonewall” as the companies sought information (called discovery) on the expenses the various plaintiffs claim to have incurred as a result of deceptive or illegal practices.
In response, Honeycutt ordered each of the cities and counties to turn over the information the companies requested within 45 days. She also questioned why this case is being tried separately from a lawsuit Attorney General Leslie Rutledge filed against many of the same companies in Pulaski County Circuit Court.
Martin A. Kasten, representing Johnson & Johnson, said the cities and counties attorneys for months have resisted their obligations by filing “boiler- plate” objections.
“We have been told more than once that we can inspect documents at plaintiffs' locations,” Kasten said, adding that response is unreasonable.
“We're set for trial in March 2022,” Kasten said.
“If we had to go to 92 locations — even if we sent teams out on the road — we couldn't go to trial until at least 2025.”
Kasten said his team responded to requests for information electronically, “and plaintiffs can do the same.”
Sean Rolland, representing the cities and counties, said the requests the companies made to the local governments were premature, because the companies had not disclosed their defense to the claims. He also said the state's financial calculations aren't county-specific, but based on statewide databases and national sources.
As for the Pulaski County case, Rolland said Rutledge is seeking reimbursement for Medicaid expenses incurred as a result of opioid abuse and addiction. A trial in that case is set for March 2021.
What the cities and counties want from the drug companies is a pool of money to:
• Prevent opioid use, injury and death through the purchase of naloxone kits for drug users, first responders,
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jailers,m hospitals, schools, public buildings and other appropriate places. Naloxone is a substance
that can reverse the
effects of an overdose.
• Treat, cure and prevent opioid misuse and addiction through the creation of mental health clinics, opioid abuse treatment clinics, programs to increase public awareness and programs to remove barriers to treatment and insurance coverage, among other things.
• Reduce the supply of dangerous opioids through testing and informationsharing so that law enforcement can better understand the opioid epidemic; creating overdose response teams; hiring additional police, lab personnel and people to optimize the Arkansas Prescription Monitoring Program.
• Reduce crime and involuntary commitments associated with opioid addition through expanding expanding drug and mental health courts, crisis stabilization units, treatment options in jails and prisons and training first responders regarding crisis intervention and diversion and prisoner reentry programs.
In the Pulaski County case, Judge Morgan “Chip” Welch ordered Rutledge's office in October 2019 to give “complete and specific” responses to the drug companies' requests for discovery information.
Following a hearing last month, the judge ordered the attorney general to amend the lawsuit claiming damages to state agencies that have not shared the information the companies had sought.
The attorney general has filed notice it will appeal Welch's decision.
WHITE COUNTY — This morning, a 45 year-old Little Rock Man. who reportedly struck his significant other in the face repeatedly after a verbal argument, is scheduled for a plea and arraignment hearing in White County Circuit Court on charges of domestic battering 3rd degree, unauthorized use of a vehicle, possession of a controlled substance of less than 4 ounces, interference with emergency communication in the first degree, theft of property and habitual offender. Thomas Alan Ferguson is on the current inmate roster of the White County Detention Center. In an affidavit by Det. Kara Osborne of the Searcy Police Department, it states that on Aug. 24 officers responded to O’Reilly Auto Parts at 2100 W. Beebe-Capps Expy in reference to a domestic disturbance.
Officer Robert Lisenbee met with an adult female victim. She reportedly state that her “significant other,” identified as Thomas Alan Ferguson, struck her repeatedly after a verbal argument that happened on the roadway in her vehicle. It was later learned that he drove her vehicle away from the scene while not being in possession of a valid driver’s license, after
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“forcefully and violently” taking her cell phone right after she called 911 for help, according to the affidavit.
Osborne and another detective, Mary Broadway arrived on the scene and Osborne noticed a “large knot” on the victim’s forehead along with a “lacerated and bloody top lip plus an abrasion and laceration on her left wrist.” The victim told detectives Ferguson caused each of the injuries.
Ferguson was located on foot in a creek area that is between O’Reilly Auto Parts and the victim’s apartment building. Police reportedly found a key to the victim’s vehicle, her cell phone and approximately 1 gram of suspected marijuana. He was arrested and transported to the White County Detention Center.
When Osborne reviewed Ferguson’s criminal history, it was found that he has a prior conviction of domestic battering out of Craighead County, dating back to Feb. 21, 2017.
In other White County court cases:
• Danny Leonard Gray, 59, of Judsonia, is awaiting his next court date for charges of domestic battery in the 3rd degree, two charges of terroristic threatening in the 1st degree and the violation of a no contact order.
In an affidavit written by White County Sheriff’s Office Det. Heather Meadows it is stated that on May 3, deputies responded the 900 block of Missile Base Rd. in the Judsonia area in reference to domestic battery. A woman reportedly advised that while she was trying to move out, her boyfriend Danny Gray pulled up to the porch at a high rate of speed and hit a glass table causing it to shatter and ran over suitcase. The victim said Gray got out of the vehicle and grabbed her and then threw her on the bench that is on the front porch. He then allegedly hit the woman in the face with his fist and reportedly pinned her down with his knees to her chest.
The victim said, according to the affidavit that Gray said he was going to kill her and her animals.
Deputy Bradley documented that the victim had redness on her left cheek from being struck in the face and redness on her chest and redness on her upper thigh.
Gray reportedly told Tucker that the victim tried to “break into the residence” to move her stuff out while he was gone. He claimed that the victim dropped the glass table on the front porch as he was “parking” his vehicle. Gray denied getting physical at any time with the victim.
Meadows learned that Gray had a previous conviction for domestic battery in the 3rd degree out of White County District Court from September 2019.
A friend of the victim said he was helping her move out of her shared residence with Gray. The victim said Gray was served with a no contact order, listing her as the protected party. Gray reportedly bonded out and showed up while the friend of the victim was helping her move. The victim’s friend serving as a witness reportedly indicated in a written statement that Gray had threatened to kill the victim. The friend stated he had witnessed Gray threatening the victim several times over the months.
While he was getting tools to take a dog kennel apart, the witness heard Gray tell the victim he would kill both her and him.
• Joshua Wayne Goodwin, 35, of Judsonia, is facing charges of domestic battery in the second degree and aggravated assault on a family/household member.
Further information on his case is pending.
• Perry Lee Wallingsford, 30, of Judsonia, has a plea and arraignment hearing this morning at 9 o’clock.
His charges are domestic battery in the third degree a subsequent offense and habitual offender. He is on the current inmate roster at the White County Detention Center.
• Leslie Nicole Ward, 36, of Bald Knob, is also being held at the White County Detention Center and is scheduled for a plea and arraignment hearing this morning on charges of domestic battery in the second degree and habitual offender.
Dale Jeremiah Terven, 38, of Beebe, has a plea and arraignment hearing this morning. His charges are domestic battery in the second degree on a family or household member and habitual offender.
JONESBORO — The City of Jonesboro Grants Department received a $100,000 award to put toward an Outreach Center for military service veterans at the Veterans Village, a block of new shelters for veterans who experience homelessness.
Jonesboro’s Veterans Village is under construction at Allis Street and Aggie Road.
“The outpouring of love from public-private partnerships is creating one of the finest Veterans Village campuses in the country,” Mayor Harold Perrin said Friday. “I can’t say enough about both the Sunderland Foundation, which provided this funding, and our grants department, which works tirelessly to find ways to provide for our residents in need.”
The Sunderland Foundation, of Overland Park, Kan., assists nonprofit organizations with capital improvement projects.
The Outreach Center will be an integral part of Jonesboro’s Veterans Village because it will house essential support services for the servicemen and women who have sacrificed for all Americans.
“We are grateful to the Sunderland Foundation, but we are not finished looking for funds for this or our other homeless projects in Jonesboro,” Grants and Community Development Director Regina Burkett said. “We are fortunate also to have Beck Pride, which meets the needs of so many veterans transitioning to civilian life, helping with this project.”
Anyone who wants to contribute to the Veterans Village project through a donation can contact Burkett at 870-336-7229 or [email protected]