No charges for Tripp; identity of bloggers remains confidential
The Saline County Prosecuting Attorney's office has completed an investigation into alleged perjury committed by Benton resident Ricky David Tripp during testimony Tripp gave in a Saline County Circuit Court proceeding in which Circuit Judge Gary Arnold presided.
Tripp was called to testify on July 12, 2012, in a proceeding stemming from a lawsuit filed by Bryant Aldermen Adrian Henley, Brenda Miller and Danny Steele. The three claim they have been slandered and defamed by anonymous bloggers on the social website MySaline.com.
Also summoned as a witness was Saline County Circuit Clerk Dennis Milligan, but Milligan was dismissed after Arnold ruled that the matter in question was not relevant to a contempt of court charge he was considering at the hearing.
During his testimony, Tripp denied being the anonymous blogger known as "The Shadow." This is one of six aliases used on the MySaline website that the aldermen claim was being used to post harassing claims against them
Tona DeMers, the attorney representing the three aldermen, questioned Tripp about his knowledge of an individual by the name of Barbara Derden.
“Are you familiar with Barbara Derden?” asked Demers.
“I don’t know her,” was Tripp’s response.
At that juncture, Demers reminded Tripp that he was under oath.
Tripp also was asked if he used the Yahoo email address of Barbara Derden to log in to MySaline.com and he said “No, ma’am.”
Documents obtained by the Saline Courier indicate that Barbara Derden is Tripp’s wife. A copy of a marriage certificate shows that Ricky David Tripp and Barbara Jean Derden were married May 27, 2007; and a Facebook page for Barbara Tripp lists an anniversary date of May 27, 2007, while identifying Ricky David Tripp as her husband.
In a Valentine’s Day special issue published by the Saline Courier in February 2011, Ricky Tripp wrote an account about reuniting with his former high school sweetheart, Barbara Jean Tisdale, via Classmates.com. He said the story of how they found each other after high school was used as an advertisement for the website. A Facebook entry from Barbara Tripp states that she "used to be Barbara Derden," and includes a reference to the death of her husband, Jim Derden. The account further states: "I remarried in May 2007 to Ricky David Tripp."
DeMers learned of Prosecuting Attorney Ken Casady's decision not to prosecute Tripp or pursue the case against the anonymous bloggers in a letter dated August 23, 2012.
The letter states: "The perjury statute requires the making of a 'false material statement.' You concede that had Mr. Tripp admitted that he was married to Barbara Derden, the result of the hearing would not have been changed, After reviewing the record, I agree that Mr. Tripp's testimony concerning Ms. Derden would not have altered the outcome of the proceeding. As such, the state cannot meet its burden of proof as to the materiality of the statement." Later in the letter it states, "Mr. Tripp was not forthcoming and his answers to counsel's questions were evasive, but under these circumstances, his actions were not criminal. Should you seek remedies available in civil court, my office would supply you and the Court with any material that we discovered."
Casady addressed the issue of the anonymous bloggers by stating: "The documents that you have provided contain no language that falls outside the stop of the First Amendment as it pertains to public officials…Though I share your clients' frustration and many of their experiences with blogs and other entities that broadcast unedited likes or slurs, people being unpleasant to you is part of being an elected official. The proper recourse is not to invoke the criminal laws of the State of Arkansas."
DeMers was reached for comment about the investigation results and she provided the following statement: "Ricky David Tripp lied on the stand about more than just not knowing his wife. The reason why that particular question was so important is that Ricky Tripp's wife, Barbara Derden's name, is contained in an email address that Mr. Tripp uses to log into one of his alter-egos on MySaline.com. That alter-ego is one of the ones that we have sought information on in our lawsuit against several unknown bloggers. Therefore, it was very much material to the facts of the case. I have never met with or spoken with Ken Casady, despite repeated attempts to do so. I was expecting a letter from Rebecca Bush, Mr. Casady's very capable chief deputy, since she is the only one courteous enough to meet with me. I provided all the evidence to the prosecutor's office for a successful prosecution of Mr. Tripp."
DeMers also alleges that "Mr. Tripp also lied on the witness stand about not being at Dennis Milligan's office after April 1 of this year. We have witnesses who place him there on April 2 and May 3. There were other untruthful statements made by Mr. Tripp and once I have collected all of the evidence, I will be taking the issue before Judge Gary Arnold, the presiding judge in our case. I am also considering filing a petition for the appointment of a special prosecutor to investigate this situation and, hopefully, expand that investigation to related areas."
Steele did not file for re-election to the Bryant City Council. Miller and Henley will defend their seats on the council in the Nov. 6 general election.