TRUMANN, Ark. – Monica Conaway has been a Trumann resident since about 2011 but she never expected a conflict with the local fire chief would make her want to move.
In October, 2022, a tense incident changed everything. Late in the month, the Conaways were having a barbecue with family and friends. As Monica described to a reporter, they were sitting underneath the carport watching NASCAR and football.
“I look up and [the fire chief and his wife] are standing at our property line looking at us and both of their arms are crossed,” Monica said. “I thought, ‘Uh oh – this doesn’t look good.”
John Revis Kemper was and is the Trumann fire chief. He and his wife, Beth, are neighbors to the Conaways. On this day, the Kempers were angry over noise and specifically, loud trucks, Monica said. Monica also said she apologized and said her kids didn’t have loud trucks. It was their friends.
“I walked away from the conversation crying because I knew they wanted to fight,” Monica said.
Sure enough, the Kempers wanted to talk to the Conaways again. This time, as seen on video captured by a neighbor, Beth Kemper is irate.
“Revis keeps pushing her back,” Monica says. “Out of no where he shoves my husband in the chest and says, ‘Come on big boy, you fucking pussy.’ And then he popped him in the chest and he pushed him.”
At that time, Monica says Beth jumped on her and started beating her up. She described being kicked in the chest with “death blows.” All the while, she says the Kempers were confident nothing would happen to them.
“She kept saying, ‘It’s okay Revis. You’re the fire chief,'” Monica said, adding that her attacker warned this “isn’t over yet.”
Monica’s youngest son called the police after seeing the fight erupt. The officers arrived and based on what the Conaways say, claimed they couldn’t do anything and even went as far as to say they were lucky the fire chief wasn’t pressing charges. The report by Trumann Officer Ronnie Henley says he told the Conaways the Kempers were not pressing charges.
Police told her to come to the police station to file an affidavit, which they confirmed in the incident report. In the meantime, the video was posted on social media to a parody page for the City of Trumann. Police records show that this is when Chief of Police Jon Redman became aware of the video.
Redman wrote in the report that the male in the light gray shirt [Revis] was attempting to hold back his irate wife, Beth, “when it appears he shoves the male in the dark colored shirt.” Redman describes that Beth, listed as a public school employee in the report, attacked the female in the black shirt [Monica] by grabbing her hair and punching her in a downward motion with her right hand. The fight went to the ground where more punches were thrown.
Trumann Police Captain Lenny Becker wrote from there that he started the criminal investigation. “In the video, it shows that Revis Kemper, who is the fire chief of Trumann, AR, and his wife Beth Kemper, was clearly on Mr. and Mrs. Conaway [sic] property.” He describes the Kempers as irate and yelling from the beginning of the confrontation.
The Kempers side of the story differs, though. Through their attorney, Revis and Beth said a bonfire at the Conaway residence the night before had been too loud and that their daughter was being kept up all night. There was some sort of verbal confrontation. The Kempers contend that Monica came to confront Beth prior to the second altercation, seen above on video, and Revis came outside when he heard the argument.
The Conaways told NEA Report they weren’t pleased with initial police response to their residence, which they said felt like was covering for the fire chief. With local resident’s help, Monica began the process of filing a criminal affidavit with the prosecuting attorney. On Tuesday, October 25, charges were approved for Beth for third degree battery and for Revis on third degree assault. A warrant was issued for both suspects. A no contact order was also served to the Kempers.
In the meantime, another elected representative of the city began speaking out in favor of the fire chief. Then-city councilwoman Peggy Greenwell made the comment on Facebook that state police had investigated and found no fault. This was completely false. Then, Greenwell stated that the video was illegal because it was filmed on the fire chief’s property. That was also false. It is legal to record in Arkansas where there is no expectation of privacy, such as in public view.
But reactions like this, based entirely in falsehoods from an elected representative, were another reason why Monica’s family was losing hope.
As the new year began, the January 18 trial date approached. Two sources in the courtroom said that Kemper was offered a plea deal for disorderly conduct and a written apology the day-of trial but refused the offer. The attorney for the Kempers, R. Scott Troutt of Troutt Law Firm, acknowledges this is true, but added that his client had been offered a deal the night before to drop the charge in exchange for writing an apology, something the victim rejected. The fire chief then rejected the offer for disorderly conduct and apologizing.
Revis was found guilty of third-degree assault, as the Jonesboro Sun reported.
Monica said it was a relief to see the court agree with her that the Kempers were in the wrong.
But then, she learned he was keeping his job with the city.
“I have nightmares about me and my family needing to be helped,” Monica said, in tears, to a reporter. “That day, I looked him in his eyes and I begged him not to do that [start a fight]. I have nightmares about me and my family needing help and he shows up and he just stands there. It just terrifies me. He shouldn’t be in that position.”
Trumann Mayor Jay Paul Woods decided not to take action against Kemper – at least, not yet.
“Right at the moment, I’m not going to discuss it and I’ll tell you why,” Woods said. “He has appealed the decision.”
Even though the incident is on video and Kemper has been convicted, Woods seemed to believe the fire chief deserved the presumption of innocence through the entire appeals process.
“I can’t punish a man that has not been convicted,” Woods said, before a reporter interrupted him.
“But he has been convicted,” we replied.
“Completely,” Woods added to his original statement. “Completely. He has not gone through the full channels of the court system. And we’re going to deal with it fairly and justly, just as I told the other news agencies. We’re not going to try to hide anything.”
Woods began his term as Trumann mayor in January after former mayor, Barbara Lewallen, was voted out of office. Lewallen had placed Kemper on paid administrative leave after video of the altercation surfaced online. Within several weeks, he was back on-duty. Woods says it isn’t fair to punish the fire chief again unless the conviction is upheld.
“I believe in being honest and straight forward and want to be just,” Woods said. “He was punished for the video and what was shown on Facebook. I can’t go back and revisit that. It’s a moot point. But the actual charge itself, until it has completely gone through the court system, I’m not going to mess with it.”
Kemper’s attorney Troutt said the city has been fair to his client and it is greatly appreciated. When asked about the appeal, Troutt said his client hopes to receive a trial before a jury of his peers – which he did not get in district court.
“We believe that the incident that they charged does not arise to third degree assault,” Troutt said. “My client did not have a purpose of putting a person in imminent fear of bodily harm.”
The mayor claims he has plans in mind of what he will do, punishment wise, if the conviction is upheld. He did not share what those plans are. He did say that he and the fire chief are “not great friends,” clarifying there was no animosity, but making the case that Kemper is not receiving special treatment. Oddly enough, the Jonesboro Sun reported on January 20 that nothing about the assault incident was included in Kemper’s personnel file.
The mayor may be making the case that the fire chief isn’t getting special treatment, but the Conaways aren’t buying it. Worse than that are the fears of retaliation. Monica sobbed as she described her fears of not receiving emergency service or fire protection if her family should ever need it.
The mayor insisted this would never happen.
“I can reassure them they have nothing to worry about it,” Woods said. “Understandably, that’s how they feel. But I can assure them this: they will be treated 100 percent just like nothing ever happened if something happened at their home. They’re still going to get the same service and treated right no matter the situation at their house.”
The Conaway family is exploring civil charges against the city if nothing is done, she said.
The first court date in the appealed case is set for February 23 in Poinsett County.
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