Lawsuit filed over violent arrest outside Arkansas store

Randal Worcester walks out of the Crawford County Justice Center in Van Buren, Ark., Monday, Aug. 22, 2022. (AP Photo/Andrew DeMillo)

LITTLE ROCK, Ark. (AP) — A man who was beaten and held down by Arkansas law enforcement officers during an arrest that was caught on a widely circulated video has filed a federal lawsuit against the officers.

Attorneys for Randal Worcester filed the lawsuit Monday over the Aug. 21 arrest outside a convenience store in the small town of Mulberry that’s prompted state and federal criminal investigations. A bystander’s video shows one officer hold Worcester down as a sheriff’s deputy repeatedly punches and knees the 27-year-old man in the head before grabbing his hair and slamming him against the pavement. At the same time, a third officer also kneed Worcester repeatedly.

All three officers — Mulberry Officer Thell Riddle and Crawford County deputies Zachary King and Levi White — are white. Worcester is also white, according to jail booking information.

Worcester’s lawsuit accuses the officers, all of whom have been suspended, of violating his constitutional rights. The lawsuit also names the city of Mulberry, its police chief, Crawford County and its sheriff as defendants.

“Any reasonable law enforcement officer should have known that his conduct violated clearly established federal law and was a direct violation of the Fourth Amendment to the United States Constitution,” the lawsuit said.

Mulberry is a community of about 1,600 people that’s roughly 140 miles (220 kilometers) northwest of Little Rock, near the Oklahoma state line.

Crawford County Sheriff Jimmy Damante has said Worcester was being questioned for threatening a clerk at a convenience store in nearby Alma. Damante said Worcester had tackled one of the deputies and punched him in the head before what is seen on the bystander’s video. The deputy suffered a concussion, Damante has said.

Damante has said that before the arrest, Worcester handed over a knife and gave the officers a false name.

An attorney for the two deputies said he was not aware of the lawsuit.

“However, I will vigorously defend the lawsuit like I do every lawsuit against my law enforcement clients,” Russell Wood said in an email.
Damante and Mulberry Police Chief Shannon Gregory did not immediately respond to emails seeking comment Tuesday afternoon.

Policing experts have said that the video of Worcester’s arrest raises red flags about the officers’ actions, saying that blows to the head amount to a potentially deadly use of force that’s only justified when someone poses a current and serious threat.

Worcester was treated at a hospital before being jailed on charges including second-degree battery and resisting arrest. He was released the following day on a $15,000 bond. The lawsuit said Worcester has permanent injuries from the arrest and that he will need continued medical treatment for injuries to his face, body and head.

Worcester’s lawsuit seeks compensatory and punitive damages, as well as money for medical bills and lost wages.