Feds prosecute copper caper in Hot Springs

For federal purposes, Arkansas is split into two judicial districts between East and West.

The main courthouse for the Eastern District is in downtown Little Rock, while the main courthouse for the Western District is in Fort Smith.

The split is based on counties, so while most of central Arkansas is in the Eastern District, Garland County, home of Hot Springs, is in the Western District. So, occasionally, things related to federal prosecutions along the district lines have a way of slipping through those cracks.

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One such example was pointed out to ArkansasNewsroom.com by Seamus Hughes, the Deputy Director of the Program on Extremism at George Washington University in Washington D.C.

The filing was from March 7 and in the Western District. It is related to a Garland County case and involves "receiving stolen property within the Special Maritime Jurisdiction of the United States."

Your immediate reaction now should be, "what? Arkansas doesn't have oceans!" Both would be correct.

The case is against Austin Grisham, a resident of Hot Springs, and is based on an affidavit by Zach Summerlin, a ranger with the U.S. Park Service.

Summerlin said as he was performing his duties as a ranger in Hot Springs National Park, he saw Grisham at the Arkansas Career Training Institute, which is inside the park and is part of the special maritime and territorial jurisdiction of the U.S.

Grisham was told he was there illegally and ordered to leave but he refused and "began screaming" that "he was not going to come out."

Hot Springs police also responded, along with a hostage negotiator, officer Mike Brown, from that department.

Brown, after a short standoff, was able to convince Grisham to leave the building.

He was detained by police and searched. Among the things found were "a broken glass pipe" that Summerlin described as something "typically used to smoke illegal drugs."

The building Grisham was in was then searched and that's when things got weird. Really weird.

In addition to lawn mowers, power tools and other pieces of equipment and tools, many with property tags from the training institute, was an enormous amount of copper.

Copper downspouts, pipes, wire, cables and unidentified pieces "throughout the building."

In addition, "many cables that were found were in the process of being separated of their copper components."

Grisham, in handcuffs, was brought into the building to help identify what was found but he, "began shouting again, stating that he wasn't doing anything wrong, had been there for three months, that we (the rangers) were stealing from him" and that it was unacceptable to Grisham that he was in handcuffs.

The next day, Summerlin used a federal database that tracks items that have been scrapped or pawned. It was determined that since Jan. 14, Grisham had sold a total of 730 pounds of copper to a recycling facility in Hot Springs for $2,178.

Rangers estimated that the value of the equipment in the building was in the neighborhood of $10,000. They did not put a dollar value on the copper that was found.

Copper theft has been an ongoing problem in Arkansas and across the country with construction sites to buildings from homes to businesses to even churches having been hit by thieves.

Online records show that Grisham was booked into Sebastian County jail on  April 7 and then transferred to U.S. Marshals on April 8.