FAYETTEVILLE, Ark. — – For the first time since their arrest, Chris Perry and James Downum share their side of the story.
“We invest a lot of time in this,” Former Benton County Drive Team Member James Downum said. “We all pride ourselves on being public safety divers. That’s how we give back.”
“There is a distinct difference for family members between gone and lost and as much as we, as a dive team, want to fix gone, we can’t,” Former Benton County Dive Team Member Chris Perry said. “We can absolutely fix lost. And we have never not fixed lost.”
Chris Perry and James Downum combined have been part of the Benton County Dive Team for thirteen years.
“It is beyond our understanding how all of a sudden nobody knows who the dive team reports to, but yet the dive team is out of control,” Downum said.
Back in June, Perry and Downum went to Beaver Lake to retrieve a sunken boat that was possibly leaking fuel.
It was considered a “side job” but the pair say it was a situation that could be used as a training opportunity.
“We use opportunities like this for training, all the time,” Downum said. “At no time did we know we were doing anything wrong.”
A few hours later the dive team was called to a water rescue of a mother and two children at War Eagle Mill.
“When we left this gentlemen’s house to go to the drowning scene, we took the boat and the equipment with us,” Downum said. “We didn’t hide the fact that we were doing work on this other boat. In fact, we openly talked about it with our team, the deputies that were on the scene and the county employees that were there.”
Earlier this month and several weeks after Perry and Downum performed the “side job”, they were arrested in connection with theft of services.
They’re accused of using dive team equipment for personal business.
“There isn’t anything in our standard operating guidelines prohibiting this one way or another and it’s analogous to Sheriff’s deputies going and working security when they are off duty at different events and getting paid and in our mind that is the same type of event and the same type of activity,” Perry said.
The Benton County Dive Team board voted that same day to suspend operations and ask the Tri-County Search and Rescue Dive Team to respond to calls in Benton County.
“This is a volunteer team and there have been outside sources looking for this teams budget lines and things for a long time,” Perry said. “This feels like this was the crack in the door that got pushed open.”
“No one has come to us and had a conversation with us regarding the situation,” Downum said. “We obviously would’ve preferred them to come to us and said that’s a problem don’t do it again but they chose to go to zero to felony with no conversation at all with us about what took place.”
Both Perry and Downum will appear in court for the first time September 11.