Unless you read the inside pages of the Arkansas Democrat Gazette (not one of my favorite pastimes), you probably missed what may be a significant development in what has become known in Clinton scandal parlance as the “boys on the tracks case.”
For those not familiar with the background, the story begins on August 22 when teen-agers Kevin Ives and Don Henry went out to a secluded area of Saline County, Arkansas, for a night of deer hunting. Early the next morning, a northbound Union Pacific train ran over their bodies as they lie sprawled on the tracks.
Arkansas State Medical Examiner Fahmy Malak, appointed by Gov. Bill Clinton, quickly ruled the boys’ deaths “accidental,” saying they were unconscious or in a deep sleep as a result of smoking marijuana. That explanation didn’t add up to Kevin’s mother, Linda, who publicly challenged the finding. A local grand jury began investigating, resulting in the bodies being exhumed.
Another autopsy revealed that Don Henry had been stabbed in the back and that Kevin Ives had been beaten with a rifle butt. In other words, the kids had been murdered — murdered in an area known as a drop zone for drug smugglers.
Under public pressure over the official mishandling of the case from the beginning, Gov. Clinton called in two pathologists from out of state to review the work of the medical examiner and state crime lab where the autopsies were conducted. But when the Saline County grand jury tried to subpoena those experts for testimony, Clinton refused to allow it.
One of the local cops subpoenaed by the grand jury was Jay Campbell, now a narcotics officer in Little Rock. But, according to Clinton friend and supporter Dan Lasater, convicted for cocaine dealing in 1986 (and subsequently pardoned by Gov. Clinton), Campbell also flew with him on some private flights suspected of being drug runs.
In 1990, Jean Duffey headed a drug task force in the area and began to piece together evidence connecting narcotics, public officials and the train deaths. Shortly afterward, she was threatened with death and run out of town.
“I didn’t understand the power of the political machine back then, but after being persuaded by the FBI to assist in an investigation they opened in 1994, I learned of connections to the CIA, Mena, and drug-smuggling,” she wrote in a recent letter to the editor of the Wall Street Journal. “I finally understood; to solve the train deaths case would be to expose the crimes of Mena, and no government agent who has come close to doing either has survived professionally.”
With that background behind us, let’s take a look at the news in the April 26, 1997, edition of the Arkansas Democrat Gazette: “Two Pulaski County sheriff’s deputies filed suit Wednesday against filmmakers who they said had made a ‘purported documentary’ about the 1987 Saline County deaths of Don Henry and Kevin Ives.
“Jay Campbell and Kirk Lane contend that Citizens for Honest Government Inc., Jeremiah Films Inc. and company President Pat Matrisciana are liable for statements accusing them of crimes.”
Now, how often do you ever hear about police officers or government officials of any kind suing the press for libel. As someone who has spent many years in the business, I can tell you it’s rare. It’s rare for several reasons, but the biggest is the fact that the courts have understood the traditional role the press plays as a watchdog of government. If government officials can successfully sue the press every time they get their feelings hurt, you simply wouldn’t have a free press anymore.
Another big reason you don’t see such suits is the fact that police officers usually don’t have money to throw away on frivolous, groundless, nuisance cases. But apparently that isn’t the case in Arkansas. I wonder why? I wonder where the money’s coming from?
This case reminds me of another case of a police officer pressing ahead with an expensive, meritless libel case — even after it was dismissed on summary judgment. I refer to the suit against my organization, reporter Christopher Ruddy and others filed by U.S. Park Police officer Kevin Fornshill over Ruddy’s report on the death of Vincent Foster.
Fornshill was one of the officers who investigated the crime scene in Fort Marcy Park leading to a quick finding of suicide despite overwhelming evidence to the contrary — the only fingerprints on the gun were not Foster’s; uncharacteristically for suicides, the gun was found still in Foster’s hands; there was little blood at the scene; Foster’s car keys were not found at the scene, though his car was in the parking lot — and on and on I could go.
So what makes police officers file costly suits knowing they don’t have a legal leg to stand on? Is someone putting them up to it? Is someone subsidizing the efforts? Or are they just being “good soldiers,” once more following orders from on high?
It makes you wonder, doesn’t it?