Commentary: The Bethellgate Saga ends now

We’re not here to gossip. We’re not here to kick a dead horse. We’re not here to kick a man when he’s down.

Our decision to pursue the Roy Bethell saga was made out of journalistic necessity. His lack of better judgment — putting alcohol in a government vehicle and back-roading after a Hogs game — was all on him, and we’re proud to have broken that story. After all, he was, at the time, an officer of the law whose task was to keep drugs off the streets, and those behind the badge are held to a higher standard than the criminals they arrest; more often than not those same criminals are the ones who fill the pages of strange-but-true news stories, and the arresting officers are subsequently made heroes.

On many occasions we’ve sat face to face with Mr. Bethell in his own CID office as he relayed information about this case or that case. We’ve known Mr. Bethell since we got into this profession 15 years ago, roughly halfway through his own career as a policeman, and he’s always been easy to talk to. Not many cops are easy to talk to when you’re on a tight deadline and asking for details on an active investigation. Bethell was always one of our favorite officers to talk to, and he always made time for us reporters.

When a former chief relieved Mr. Bethell of his investigative duties and job at the Arkadelphia Police Department 10 years ago, we reached out to Bethell for comment, and it would mark the first time he declined to talk to us. We wished him well on his next endeavor, and started chasing the next news story. Ob-La-Di, Ob-La-Da.

Years later our paths would again cross — this time in a new era; we had just launched this website, and he hadn’t been with Group 6 for long. We briefly caught up with Mr. Bethell at the county jail while we were jotting police reports into a reporter’s notebook. We nodded at each other, happy to be back in the saddle of what we’re both respectively good at.

Then the Hog Wild story broke, and we did our job of uncovering the facts, which we remain convinced would have gone unreported in our absence. We personally hated to see Bethell fall from grace, but we had a job to do.

Learning that he’d applied for the top cop spot in Caddo Valley, part of us said he had a snowball’s chance after such a Hog Wild story. The other part of us said some governments in Clark County are notorious for making downright bizarre decisions. That part of us, it turns out, was right, but again we did our part: we told the public that a city had chosen the leader of its next police department. We had hoped to let some time pass before talking to Mr. Bethell on the record about how he was settling into his new job as Top Dog, and we were hoping that he would soon put the Hog Wild stuff behind him, behind us.

Then, in the days before he would pour himself back into that policeman’s uniform wearing a CVPD badge, he up and retired. That’s curious, we thought. Dig deeper. So we did.

The more we dug, the uglier the truth became. Was it truth the public should know? Of course they wanted to know, but if a man is doing immoral things on his own time, isn’t that his business? That depends on who you talk to, but our journalistic compass pointed to these facts:

  1. Roy Bethell had just been named a police chief — a public figure, a leader in the community whose standards are higher even than those of a drug task force officer (hey, they maintain their own budget of public dollars).
  2. Roy Bethell had just lost a job after a pretty big awe, shit! moment (forgive us, Mayor Jackson, and those who wanted to see that uncensored quote previously).
  3. Despite his second (or pick a number) chance, Roy Bethell continued making poor decisions, and given the swiftness of how it all played out, it can easily be argued that he had absolutely no regard for decent, moral behavior. Behavior that’s expected of a public official. This had to be brought to light.

Our decision to pursue this investigation was not taken lightly, and we stand behind our work. We remain convinced that the applause we’ve received along the way is proof enough that we’re not here to gossip, as some might argue, but rather to take one bite of an elephant.

As for Roy Bethell, here we are again wishing him the absolute best in his next endeavor. But if we or the rationally-thinking public have anything to say about it, he’ll be just another one of us, minus the badge.

End of story.

Categories: Voices