Code enforcement officer, lawyer spar in court

By Ed Brock

The city of Jonesboro has put its code enforcement officer on paid leave while the city manager investigates a heated exchange in open court between an attorney and the officer.

Attorney Steve Frey said he was in Jonesboro Municipal Court Thursday afternoon representing Jonesboro businessman Jack Branon for a hearing regarding several citations Jonesboro Code Enforcement Officer Anthony Butler wrote against him. Butler had requested that Branon's probation on the citations be revoked because Branon was still not in compliance.

During his cross examination Frey began asking Butler whether a fence had been built on Branon's property to conceal the inoperable cars that were the supposed source of the code violation.

Butler was being evasive about answering his questions, Frey said, even refusing to positively identify one of the tickets he supposedly had written against Branon.

"I was just trying to get him to answer the questions," Frey said.

According to court transcripts at one point Frey told Butler "I guess I'm going to have to spoon-feed you." The exchange continued to be contentious until at one point Frey asked if Butler was refusing to testify about whether the ticket was his.

"No, no. Did I say that?" Butler said.

"I asked you what reason ...," Frey said.

"I heard what you asked me," Butler said.

"Don't get in my face," Frey said.

"Don't you get in my face. And don't be arguing with me. Don't be talking to me like I'm a little boy. You understand?," Butler said.

"I know what I'm talking to," Frey said.

"I know what I'm talking to, too. You put your hands on me if you want to. We'll go scrap," Butler said.

At around that point, according to witnesses, the court's bailiff had to step between the two men and Municipal Court Judge William West halted the hearing, saying "This thing is starting to get out of hand." West went on to reschedule the hearing and suggested that City Manager Jon Walker attend the next hearing.

West also ordered a transcript of the hearing and the hearing concluded at 3:20 p.m.

Frey said he hadn't decided yet what action he would like to pursue.

"If Jonesboro would get rid of him I'd consider the problem solved," Frey said.

Walker said he was reviewing the incident and so could not make further comment on the case. He did say that Butler had been placed on paid leave until the outcome of the investigation.

Butler did not return a phone call seeking comment.

Branon and Butler have had conflicts before.

On March 14 one of Branon's tenants, 51-year-old Gwen Lee, came before the city council to complain that Butler had made inappropriate comments to her and touched her during a visit to her property last May to discuss possible code violations.

Butler said previously that Branon was encouraging Lee to make the accusations in retribution for Butler citing Branon on property he owned. Branon said Butler is citing him as revenge because it was Branon who initially reported the incident with Lee to Jonesboro city officials.