Rusher pleads guilty

Wednesday, November 27, 2013

Former Trumann Police Chief Tony Rusher has pleaded guilty to a drug charge that allows him to avoid a prison sentence. Rusher pleaded guilty to fraudulent practices concerning controlled substances when he and his attorney Steve Inboden of Trumann appeared before Judge John Fogleman in Harrisburg Nov. 24. The court did not enter a finding of guilt or judgment and deferred sentencing according to his attorney. Rusher was place on a 5-year suspended imposition of sentence.He had been facing between three and 10 years in prison and a $10,000 fine according to Arkansas law. Rusher also agreed to testify in the trial of former Trumann police detective Erik Willbanks in the event it goes to trial.

Rusher's legal problems began in early 2012 when an investigation into allegations of theft of prescription drugs from the evidence locker quickly led to the former chief.

Rusher was placed on paid administrative leave after Mayor Sheila Walters hired private investigator and former Arkansas State Police special agent Phil Carter to investigate him. Mayor Walters said she spoke with Rusher Monday after receiving the results of the investigation and that Rusher resigned.

Trumann police chief Tony Rusher resigned in February 2012 after the results of an internal investigation were released.

The report, which included summaries of interviews with six officers, including Rusher, details allegations involving the theft of prescription drugs from the evidence room.

According to Carter's report, Rusher told him during the investigation that he was "hooked on hydrocodone and wanted to get treatment for the addiction." When asked if Rusher had ever been in the evidence room, the report states that Rusher initially said he had never been in the evidence room or taken pills from it.

Later, the report says that "Rusher then stated he actually had taken pills, or received pills, from officers that came out of the evidence room. He said these pills were going to be destroyed anyway. He said he never took any pills except the kind that he had a prescription for." Carter added that Rusher said "he usually did this when he ran out of money and it saved him some money. He said he usually took a few until his prescription could be refilled."

The report listed medicine that Rusher said he used on a daily basis, which included six Hydrocodone, six Percocet, one Xanax at night, one Effexor for depression, an unknown blood pressure pill and Ambien sometimes at night for sleep.

Carter also interviewed Detective Erik Willbanks, who said he first noticed a problem with Rusher two years ago when Rusher had gone into the evidence room by himself and taken some Hydrocodone that matched his prescription. According to the report, "Willbanks said, 'The chief said he was suffering from severe headaches.'

Willbanks said he was not sure of the procedures of going into the evidence room, but the chief was with him and said it was okay. Willbanks said he figured this is the way it had always been done."

Later in the report, Willbanks says the Chief Rusher approached him 10-15 times asking if he had any hydrocodone that had been through court and that Rusher would either go into the evidence room and get the drugs or have Willbanks do it for him. Willbanks also says in the report that after 500-600 hydrocodone pills were taken during a traffic stop and had been processed through court, "Chief Rusher wound up getting every one of those pills."

At this point, the report says Willbanks realized Rusher had a serious problem and told Assistant Chief Gary Henry everything. Then in January, the report says that Rusher met with Willbanks and told him "he was sick and addicted to hydrocodone. Willbanks said he told him he needed to talk to a doctor. He (Rusher) blamed a previous doctor for prescribing him too many pills and causing his addiction."

Willbanks also told Carter that after talking to the chief, Rusher again asked about pills in the evidence room, and Wilbanks told him "there was nothing in there except evidence that had not been through court."

Willbanks then said in the report that Chief Rusher took a black garbage bag that was on the floor. "The bag was not criminal evidence," Willbanks said. "The bag contained three bottles of liquid morphine and an unknown quantity of fentanyl patches that had been turned in by a deceased person's family to be destroyed by the DEA. He got them and started to leave. I told him not to take them because they could kill him. He (Rusher) said it would be okay because he would research them on the internet and figure out how to take them. He asked for a couple of bags to carry them out in. I gave them to him and left. I thought I would find him dead."

Willbanks was fired by Trumann Mayor Sheila Walters March 7, 2012, one week after being suspended two weeks without pay. Willbanks is scheduled to go to trial Jan. 13-17.

Following an investigation into the theft of prescription drugs from the police department evidence room Rusher resigned in February 2012. Willbanks was fired the following month. Willbanks pleaded not guilty to the charges and said Rusher asked him for prescription painkillers. He is scheduled for trial Jan. 13-17 in Harrisburg.

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