An Arkansas police recruit died of natural causes while attending a law enforcement academy where there are "concerning issues with the culture of the training program," according to a case file reviewed by a local prosecutor.
The July death of Patrolman Vincent "Vinny" Parks was initially the subject of a criminal investigation by Arkansas State Police. Parks, 38, died on his first day of training at the Central Arkansas Law Enforcement Training Academy at Camp Robinson in North Little Rock.
An investigative file on his death revealed "concerning issues with the culture" of the training facility, including "hazing" and a "lack of helpful cooperation in the investigation," according to letter written Thursday by Pulaski County Prosecutor Larry Jegley to Arkansas State Police Col. Bill Bryant.
A subsequent medical examiner’s autopsy report ruled that Parks' death was an accident caused by a "Sickle-cell trait-related" crisis related to physical exertion and heat distress, Jegley wrote. Heart disease and obesity might have also contributed to the accidental death.
Jegley's office determined the actions of the academy were not criminal. He declined to detail the issues he referenced with the culture of the training program.
"We will not reiterate those concerns but would invite a careful inquiry into the practice, procedures, and other problems at (the Arkansas Law Enforcement Training Academy) made obvious in the ASP report," Jegley wrote.
A text message, obtained by the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette, from former Department of Public Safety Director Jami Cook to Alison Williams, Gov. Asa Hutchinson’s chief of staff, and three other law enforcement officials, shortly after Park fell ill said the trainee "fell out" after jogging to and from his car and engaging in four minutes of calisthenics.
Central Arkansas was under a heat advisory from 1 p.m. to 8 p.m. that Sunday, Dylan Cooper, a meteorologist for the National Weather Service in North Little Rock, told the newspaper.
Parks had joined the Jonesboro Police Department in June. Following his death, JPD removed four other recruits sent to Camp Robinson from the academy, KAIT-TV reported.