Two tales emerge of day police cadet died

An investigation file in the death of Vincent Parks on his first day of training at a state police academy lays out two different stories — one from the staff and another from the cadets.

Pulaski County Prosecutor Larry Jegley reviewed the Arkansas State Police investigative report into Parks’ death and cited the state medical examiner’s autopsy report that ruled the cause of death an accident caused by sickle cell disease triggered by physical exertion and heat stress, hypertensive heart disease and obesity in deciding not to pursue charges in Parks’ death.

However, he said the investigation raised serious questions about events that led up to the officer’s death. The investigative report detailed those events.

According to the academy staff, they were prepared for training cadets on a day when the weather service recorded a heat index of 106. Staff told cadets to come hydrated, they filled up a jug of water to be used at any time by cadets, and they were thoroughly briefed on heat-related illnesses before the day started.

However, nearly all the cadets interviewed by an Arkansas State Police detective said the training should have been handled better, with some saying more cadets could have fallen ill if the training continued. Many cadets said they either asked to be pulled from the training or their law enforcement agencies tried to pull them from the training after Parks died.

All of the accounts said the academy started training at 1 p.m. on July 17.

Parks and four other Jonesboro police officers showed up early for the training, at about 12:10 p.m., the report said. Recruits had been told to arrive at the training center held on the property of Camp Robinson in North Little Rock by 12:30 pm. They’d also been told to stay in their vehicles, but they got out and stood around talking in the parking lot, the report said.

All of the recruits had received an email about a week prior from Commission on Law Enforcement Standards and Training instructor Amanda Chaney, she said.

“I cannot stress to you enough that you should begin hydrating and acclimating yourself to physical fitness activities outside everyday if you have not already started,” Chaney said in a copy of the email found in the file.

She went on to instruct recruits that physical training will happen outside in the heat and will not cease due to weather issues, and that each recruit should drink plenty of water and eat prior to arrival.

“Every academy we have a few cadets who choose not to heed this warning and not eat, and it results in them passing out, having heat related illness, becoming dehydrated and jeopardizing the longevity of their training at the academy for failure to do so,” Chaney wrote in the email.

The recruits were also told they will be in their academy uniform, wearing boots and pants for the majority of the training.

Multiple recruits told an investigator they were under the belief they needed to show up in the khaki pants and polo shirts for an orientation on July 17 but then would change into physical training clothes for a physical test. The recruits said they didn’t expect any physical fitness prior to the orientation.

About an hour before recruits arrived on July 17, Chaney and another instructor, Territha Reed, filled up a 10-gallon water cooler and placed it on a table in a shaded area, Reed said in a written statement found in the file.

As Parks and other recruits waited in the parking lot, the instructors gathered for a briefing with CLEST Supervisor Joe Dubois at 12:30 p.m., multiple accounts said. In the meeting, they talked about making sure every recruit had a water bottle and watching for signs of any illness, including heat exhaustion, Reed said in her statement. She also said Dubois discussed emergency staff on site and stated multiple times that the recruits would not be outside for more than an hour.

As Dubois did his briefing, some recruits were searching for a bathroom but found all the doors were locked, multiple recruit statements said.

At about 1 p.m., the Jonesboro recruits heard shouting and followed other recruits running toward an asphalt lot. Multiple recruit and instructor accounts said the group got into a formation on the lot, where roll call was made.

Reed said in her statement that the recruits were reminded they needed to have a water bottle on them at all times. Parks raised his hand and said he’d left his in the car. He was told to go back and get it.

Several accounts say Parks walked briskly back to his vehicle and then fell back into the formation.

“Chaney asked Parks what was wrong with his pants,” Reed said in her statement. “He stated, ‘”I think my belt just broke.'”

Parks continued to work on his pants and belt while in formation, the report said.

After roll call, the cadets were moved to a grassy area under a tree. The tree provided shade for some of the cadets, but not all.

The cadets did an integrity check on how they were standing, multiple accounts said, and then started physical training with a few push-ups.

Chaney noticed one of the cadets had a prohibited smart watch on and ordered all the cadets to run to their cars, multiple trainer accounts said. The cadets were told to put any items such as phones or smart watches in their vehicles and then run back to formation.

The cadets were instructed on how to take quick sips versus gulps during a brief water break, video clips show.

Dubois said that Chaney noticed Parks’ water bottle was empty and asked an instructor to fill it back up.

The cadets were soon back to physical fitness, doing physical training such as mountain climbers and push-ups, when Dubois noticed a cadet had another prohibited item — sunglasses. Again, the cadets were sent on a run to their vehicles in the parking lot and then back to formation, where physical training continued, the report said.

On each run, multiple instructors and cadets mentioned noticing Parks struggling with his pants.

Melvin Isom, another Jonesboro cadet, told investigators that “Vinny” was standing near him after the second run.

“It was so hot that his mind was all over the place and he wasn’t standing correctly, and Vinny corrected him,” the investigator wrote about Isom’s statements in her report.

The witness accounts differ on whether another run happened prior to Parks’ falling ill. Isom remembered a third run, while others, including instructors, seem to report two runs.

After the last run, Dubois told investigators he remembered seeing Parks.

“I observed Cadet Parks in the back of the formation where I observed his pants to be sitting lower than the belt line exposing his underwear,” he wrote in his statement. “His zipper was in the unzipped position. I informed him of this to where he responded by zipping his pants up. I observed that Cadet Parks was not steady on his feet.”

At about 20 minutes into training, a couple of cadets said they remembered an instructor denying a recruit a bathroom break.

The timeline on when Parks fell ill isn’t clearly available, as some recruits said it was after 30 to 40 minutes of training and instructors said 10 to 15 minutes. The investigative summary says phone footage shows about 25 minutes of physical fitness.

Paramedic witness statements in the file are heavily redacted, making it difficult to piece together their timelines.

If following the investigator’s assumption, Parks fell ill about 1:25 p.m.

Dubois said he asked another instructor to check on him. The instructor escorted Parks to a picnic table and started providing him oxygen, Dubois said in his statement.

The instructors kept physically training the recruits as Parks sat on the table in front of them.

Isom watched as Parks fought taking the oxygen, he said in his statement.

Reed heard Parks tell paramedics that he hadn’t taken his medication or had anything to eat or drink before training, her statement said.

Isom said he saw Parks’ eyes go crossed and watched as he stumbled to an ambulance.

“Isom heard someone say they’d had two 15 minute breaks by this point but that was a ‘lie’,” the investigation file said.

Dubois told the investigator he was advised that another ambulance was going to come to transport Parks to the hospital.

An ambulance dispatch report shows that ambulance en route at 1:31 p.m.

It wasn’t long after Parks was moved to the second ambulance that he was alerted Parks had coded, Dubois said.

Several cadets, including Isom, remembered hearing a code blue called as they were making their way to a classroom.

At about 1:50, Sgt. Morshaydrick Racy of the Jonesboro Police Department was first contacted by Chaney, Racy’s statement to police said. She told him there was a medical incident but didn’t make it seem urgent, he said.

Chaney described Parks as “very not put together,” Racy told the investigator.

Racy called Chaney back at 2:15 p.m. and was told Parks was being transported to the hospital, but it still didn’t sound urgent.

At about the same time, Jami Cook, former Arkansas Department of Public Safety Secretary, texted officials with Gov. Asa Hutchinson’s office and other law enforcement officials that a recruit had jogged from his car to formation and participated in four minutes of calisthenics before falling out. She stated he coded in the ambulance and that she’d keep everyone posted.

At 2:18 p.m., an ambulance started transporting Parks to Baptist Spring Hill hospital, according to dispatch reports. Reed was instructed to head to the hospital as well.

As cadets shuffled back into the classroom, Sgt. Matthew Higgins of the Searcy Police Department noted another cadet appeared ill. He said in his statement the cadet was pale and sweating more than the other cadets. He asked Fire and EMS for a health check.

Multiple cadets gave statements that in the next hour Chaney told them that filling out an injury report would likely mean they’d be kicked out of the program.

London Shields, another Jonesboro cadet, told the investigator she heard instructors making comments that felt like they were making fun of Parks.

Reed arrived at the hospital and watched a doctor attempt to revive Parks, she told the investigator. She told the doctor Parks was participating in physical activity for about 10 to 15 minutes.

The doctor came out later and told Reed he hadn’t had a pulse for 45 minutes, her statement said.

At 3:01 p.m., Racy received a call informing him Parks had passed away. He immediately texted Chaney at 3:04 and got a response that she’d respond as soon as she could but she was teaching a block of instruction.