Dallas Cowboys owner Jerry Jones violated Arkansas law when he gave dozens of North Little Rock police officers free travel, accommodations and tickets to Cowboys football games last year, the Arkansas Ethics Commission said Friday.
The panel voted 3-2 to issue a warning, but no penalty, to Jones. A majority of members voted to find that Jones committed an “unintentional violation” of Arkansas Code Annotated 21-8-801, which bars gifts valued at more than $100 to public servants for the performance of their duties and responsibilities.
Jones, who grew up in North Little Rock, invited officers and their families to attend any one of the last five home games of the past season.
Under the law, a first offense committed by a person who is not a lobbyist carries no penalty. The Ethics Commission said that even if that were not the case, it would not have sanctioned Jones because he acted with “good cause” when he relied upon a resolution adopted by the North Little Rock City Council that declared the gift was an employee benefit and did not fall under the gift prohibition for public servants.
Russ Racop, who operates the blog Bad Government in Arkansas, filed several ethics complaints over the gifts and the resolution. Last month, the commission dismissed Racop’s complaints against North Little Rock Mayor Joe Smith and the North Little Rock City Council, finding that adopting the resolution did not violate Arkansas law.
But last week, the commission ruled that police detective Sgt. Michael Gibbons, president of the North Little Rock Fraternal Order of Police, did violate the gift ban by accepting Jones’ gift. Because it was a first offense and Gibbons is not a lobbyist, he was not sanctioned.
During a hearing in closed session Friday, the commission heard testimony and arguments from Racop, Jones and Jones’ attorney, Catherine Dolan. The panel then voted in open session to issue a warning to Jones, which Executive Director Graham Sloan said will consist of a letter advising Jones that the gift violated state law.
Jones told reporters Friday that officers who attended the games were publicly recognized during the games for their work in building good relations with the North Little Rock community.
“The opportunity to tell this story in front of the millions of people who watch the Dallas Cowboy games was a tremendous opportunity to not just talk about my hometown but to basically show the nation how to help solve some of these problems with the anger between our citizenry and the law enforcement,” he said.
The point was to tell that story to a large audience and not to “try to influence police,” Jones said.
Racop said the commission’s decision was “what I thought it would be.”
“I’m happy with the outcome,” he said, adding that he hopes the decision will deter future violations of the gift ban.