As Mike Huckabee gains in the polls, the former Arkansas governor is finding that his record in office is getting more scrutiny. One issue likely to get attention is his handling of a sensitive family matter: allegations that one of his sons was involved in the hanging of a stray dog at a Boy Scout camp in 1998. The incident led to the dismissal of David Huckabee, then 17, from his job as a counselor at Camp Pioneer in Hatfield, Ark. It also prompted the local prosecuting attorney— bombarded with complaints generated by a national animal-rights group—to write a letter to the Arkansas state police seeking help investigating whether David and another teenager had violated state animal-cruelty laws. The state police never granted the request, and no charges were ever filed. But John Bailey, then the director of Arkansas's state police, tells NEWSWEEK that Governor Huckabee's chief of staff and personal lawyer both leaned on him to write a letter officially denying the local prosecutor's request. Bailey, a career officer who had been appointed chief by Huckabee's Democratic predecessor, said he viewed the lawyer's intervention as improper and terminated the conversation. Seven months later, he was called into Huckabee's office and fired. "I've lost confidence in your ability to do your job," Bailey says Huckabee told him. One reason Huckabee cited was "I couldn't get you to help me with my son when I had that problem," according to Bailey. "Without question, [Huckabee] was making a conscious attempt to keep the state police from investigating his son," says I. C. Smith, the former FBI chief in Little Rock, who worked closely with Bailey and called him a "courageous" and "very solid" professional.
Huckabee called Bailey's account "totally untrue" and described him as a "bitter" exemployee. "I asked him to resign because he had so alienated the entire state police," he said. "It had nothing to do with my son." Brenda Turner, Huckabee's then chief of staff, and Kevin Crass, the Huckabee family lawyer, also disputed Bailey's account, although both acknowledged talking to him about the dog killing. "I asked him, 'Is it normal for the state police to … investigate something that happened at a Boy Scout camp?' " Turner says. "We wanted the same treatment that anybody else would get." (Animal cruelty in Arkansas is a misdemeanor, not a felony.)
The details of the incident remain murky. The Animal Legal Defense Fund got an anonymous fax that summer alleging that David Huckabee and another youth had been involved in the hanging of a stray dog at the camp on July 11. A local animal-rights activist, Joyce Hillard, later contacted the camp director. Notes of Hillard's report to the defense fund read, "Boys confessed & were fired. Dir. is making excuses, saying dog was sic & boys were putting him out of his misery." (The director told NEWSWEEK only that a stray dog was "put down" and that the counselors were fired for violating the Scout credo to be "kind.") The father of the other counselor was quoted by the Arkansas Democrat Gazette in August 1998 as saying that his son found the dog "hung over a limb and choking." David Huckabee did not respond to requests for comment. (In April of this year, he was arrested—and paid a fine—when he forgot to remove a loaded gun from his carry-on luggage at Little Rock airport.) His father told NEWSWEEK that his son did not engage in "intentional torture." "There was a dog that apparently had mange and was absolutely, I guess, emaciated." A campaign official says David "regrets" the incident and notes that he later made Eagle Scout.