RUSSELLVILLE, Ark. – Jail security cameras reveal a rare glimpse in a county jail turned courtroom because of COVID-19.
Through a public records request, Working 4 You received hours of footage showing Pope County District Court Judge Don Bourne during recent bond hearings.
“If you were a good employee, they wouldn’t have laid you off. You need to work harder,” said Bourne to an inmate.
On October 15, 2021, Bourne can be heard telling a man if he kept his attitude with the circuit court judge, it could mean state prison. The man, who claimed he had no money to pay fines, told Bourne he had a migraine.
At this point, the men talk over each other and KARK is unable to transcribe what is said.
State records show there were at least 365 incidents of sexual assault or harassment reported to the Arkansas Department of Correction in 2019. That’s an average of one per day.
The Arkansas Coalition Against Sexual Assault (ACASA) condemns the exchange.
“Our society often ignores or even jokes about prison rape,” said ACASA Executive Director Monie Ballard. “This attitude dehumanizes people in prison and implies rape is somehow an appropriate tool to be used to instill fear or gain power and control over an individual.”
In another hearing, on the same day, the judge is heard referencing Governor Asa Hutchinson.
“The probation officer doesn’t work for me so I can’t answer that question. I think they work for the Governor, although, the Governor, he’s too busy worried about being on TV to be worried about you,” said Bourne.
When asked about Bourne’s comments, the governor questioned Bourne’s behavior.
“The judge making negative comments about me is not really important but the conduct of the judge toward a defendant is troubling. This is a matter that should be referred to the Judicial Discipline Committee for review.”Governor Asa Hutchinson
Bourne has been at the center of a number of Working 4 You investigations in the past week after records revealed public defenders were being used in a courtroom only a fraction of the time compared to other similar sized counties.
He defended his actions in a statement to KARK 4 News in an earlier report, saying that as many as 95% of people who go to district court plead guilty and that they, “want their cases to be over with, and the[y] do not ask for an attorney.”
Following that earlier story, the head of the Arkansas Judicial Discipline & Disability Commission (JDDC) said an Investigation Panel will conduct a “thorough and confidential investigation” into Bourne.
One woman called on the Arkansas Supreme Court to intervene while JDDC investigates.
Judge Bourne did not respond to our request for comment.
Full statement from ACASA:
“Rape is a violent crime. Insinuating rape may be used as a form of punishment for a prisoner implies that rape is sometimes appropriate. This is an idea that is a staple of rape culture. Rape culture implies that sometimes rape is deserved. As a society, we cannot say a victim or survivor is never at fault, then imply some people do deserve to be raped. Our society often ignores or even jokes about prison rape. This attitude dehumanizes people in prison and implies rape is somehow an appropriate tool to be used to instill fear or gain power and control over an individual.
It is the belief of the Arkansas Coalition Against Sexual Assault (ACASA) that sexual violence is a public health and safety issue and deserves the complete attention of our elected officials. In order for social justice to be achieved, societal attitudes, cultural beliefs, and institutional practices that perpetuate sexual violence and other social injustices must be challenged and changed. The ACASA urges any individual who wishes to file a formal complaint, looking for resources, or who wants to learn more about the Arkansas judicial system to contact the Arkansas Judicial Discipline & Disability Commission via the www.jddc.arkansas.gov website.”Monie Ballard (Johnson), ACASA Executive Director