Have You Heard the One About the “Bullman,” the Fattening Hog, and the Humorless Father? It’s No Joke

It appears that parents, police and prosecutors in Harlan, Kentucky have a poor sense of humor and an even worse sense of criminal justice. A recent controversy began with a bad joke by politician and former gubernatorial candidate Otis “Bullman” Hensley at a grocery store. The joke to a mother and her two daughters would land Hensley in jail for three days and facing 10 years in jail.

Hensley is known as a jokester and not a particularly good one. Hensley said that his wife sent him to a local grocery store to buy ground beef. At the checkout counter, Hensley was next to a woman with her two nieces, ages 11 and 13. Hensley jokes that he would offer her a “fattening hog” for the two girls. It is a fairly standard joke — though the fattening hog part would be lost in most urban settings.

The father of the girls, who appears to have had both his judgment and humor surgically removed on a prior occasion, went to the local prosecutor to seek a criminal charge. One would think that any responsible prosecutor would tell the father that he needed to work on his sense of humor and toss him out of the office. Instead, because of an archaic legal system allowing citizens to swear out warrants without investigation, the local prosecutor issued a warrant for arrest and the police executed the warrant.

Hensley was confused. “Jay Leno makes jokes every night and makes millions, I make one joke and go to jail.” Well, I would not call his Leno material, but the point has some value. Hensely was charged with the absurd crime of attempted unlawful transaction with a minor.

It was only dismissed after Hensley was held for three days in jail and made a public apology to the family. The father then agreed in open court to forgive him and the prosecutor, who should never have brought the charge, declared it a success.

Prosecutor J.D. Smith told the Court “He absolutely meant no harm. It was a joke to him.” It would be a joke to most of mankind. The question is whether the police and prosecutors in the good hamlet of Harlan are jokes. The only apology in the courtroom should have been from Smith and the police for allowing a crank to convince them to bring a Class B felony charge and impose three days of jail for an obvious joke. Likewise, where was the judge in the courtroom? At a minimum, a bench admonition of the father was in order to tell him not to misuse the legal process because he is intellectually or socially incapable of understanding a joke.

In my view, this is a serious act of abuse, but officials are fortunate that Mr. Hensley has a very good sense of humor.

Part of the problem is that in Kentucky (besides having some obviously humor-challenged citizens), any citizen can obtain an arrest warrant by simply filing out a complaint with a local prosecutor. How much sense does that make? This case shows that Kentucky needs to enter the twenty-first century with a system that requires a modicum of investigation before a warrant is issued for arrest. However, there remains the problem of Smith and the police allowing Hensley, 52, to be arrested and jailed for three days. Hensley says that he repeatedly tried to apologize and tried to explain to Smith that it was just a joke, here. Smith still allowed him to be arrested and charged. Hensley’s wife Mae now says “He won’t say it anymore, I can tell you that.” Really, I know some civil libertarians who would love to take him into the same grocery store and have him make the same joke. It is clear that the prosecutor and police of Harlan could use some instruction on both criminal cases and obvious comedy.

For the full story, click here.

19 thoughts on “Have You Heard the One About the “Bullman,” the Fattening Hog, and the Humorless Father? It’s No Joke”

  1. Patty C.

    Indeed I will do my best. I have been showing up when I can, just haven’t been piping up much. I was procrastinating professionally so much that I am now recovering from exhaustion. Had I completed my assignments in a routine manner I would have exerted less than 30% of the energy required to shirk my responsibilities. Go figure !!


  2. Well we know the location of this story may explain a lot about what happened. Harlan has been known since the 1930’s for incredible violence. First with illegal moon shining and then coal strikes, this area just over the Virginia border was dubbed “Bloody Harlan.” I suspect the police are pretty sensitive as are the towns folk when it comes to insults escalating, and while I think this was an excess of the system, it’s worth remembering that some magistrate thought there was enough evidence to issue the warrant, and some Judge was prepared to hear the charges.

  3. Wow,
    I go away from my computer and upon my return I find out that Jill and I were slimed by Gino. Gino, just because you don’t like the facts and the evidence that supports a criminal prosecution doesn’t make them any less real. Being called mentally unstable by someone like Gino who doesn’t believe in reality is a badge of honor.
    Now, I have to get going because I hear my Mom calling and I haven’t finished sewing my peace symbol on my favorite bellbottoms. “All we are saying is, Give Peace a Chance.”

  4. binx101 1, August 27, 2008 at 11:23 am

    What do you mean – ‘You people’ ??? You can’t talk to me like that – I have family in Kentucky !!

    Would you mind showing up more often?

    Besides JT, you, me, mespo, rcampbell, and VinceTreacy are the only
    ol’ timers left around…

  5. And Gino, Yes I do wish someone from Kentucky would swear out a warrant, that a prosecuter would bring it to a judge and that a judge would sign it and order the arrest of cheney and bush (thanks to primigenius for the proceedure). I wish that because I don’t think this Congress or this “justice” dept. will do the right thing, that which is required of them by our law.

    It is only when people step forward to put an end to injustice that there is any hope of bringing justice. In Argentina, when their govt. was drugging protesters and throwing them into the ocean, the mothers of the “disappered” gathered in the central plaza, at first, only a few at risk to their own lives. Every day more and more mothers, family members, friends, and people of conscience joined them. And these people ended their government’s “Dirty War”. Someway, somehow, through peaceful means, we the people must end this government’s dirty war against it’s own citizens.

  6. Gino,

    I know there are many more people that believe bush and cheney should be indicted than tried to levitate the Denver Mint. Do I think they will be indicted? Very likely not, at least not in the U.S. and probably then only after a very long time. Do I think that’s O.K.? No I don’t. What they have done has resulted in the deaths of thousands, the wounding of thousands more and the destruction of another nation. Our political capital in the world, not to mention our military resources are in shreds. If you don’t think that’s a problem for us check out what’s happening with Russia. Finally, I don’t care if you’re a Republican, Democrat or unscucessful pagan monetary levitator, you should care about the US Constitution. It also lies in shreds. I do have a hard time understanding why these things should not be of any concern. So here’s my question for you–do these things concern you and if so why, if not, why not?

  7. Gino,

    The whole point of our country is that the Government works for the Governed, not the other way around. We can have put pressure on those we’ve elected to make sure an investigation happens. Despite what the media and politicians may want you to believe, the people actually have the power to decide who gets elected. The only way the current downward spiral away from a free society can happen is if the people let it, which is exactly what your attitude of “we can’t do anything” will do.

  8. What are your questions? What is the issue? So there are mountains of evidence of against Cheney and Bush. So what? If you think that is going to result in a criminal prosecution of either, then you don’t understand politics (among other things). The only people who really think Bush should be prosecuted for war crimes, or for lying to the public to get us into a war for oil, or whatever, were at the Democratic National Convention yesterday trying to levitate the Denver Mint building. How did that go?

  9. Primigenius,
    I think you’ve hit on a likely rationale for this going as far as it did. Clearly, with the same facts a prominent Harlan resident would not have been charged or arrested. The ability of private citizens to swear out criminal warrants is a scary proposition, given that I believe that 5% of all humans are completely insane.

  10. A KY lawyer checking in to shed a little light (and perhaps even more confusion) on the warrant situation in our great Commonwealth. While the law allows a criminal warrant to be sworn by any “victim” of a crime, the County Attorney has great prosecutorial latitude in determining whether to present the applied-for warrant to a judge for his signature. And the district judge or possibly a trial commissioner, after reviewing the allegations may find there is no probable cause to issue a warrant; or if he or she does find probable cause, may refrain from ordering the arrest of the person to be charged. I have a feeling that Hensley may not subscribe to the party affiliation of the judge or the County Attorney, and may have suffered his incarceration for being a Democrat in a Republican county, or vice versa. The untold backstory of Hensley’s relationship to the judge and prosecutor in Harlan is undoubtedly even more interesting than the case which sent him to jail for three days. For some fascinating stories of law as it was practised in the mountains of Eastern Kentucky I refer you to Harry Caudill’s Slender Is the Thread. It’s an amazing read.

  11. It’s still name calling Gino and you still haven’t answered my questions! BTW–I’ve never been offended by being called crazy, so use that if you want. I hope you will be honorable enough to tackle the issue instead of just name calling.

  12. Sorry. You’re right. Name-calling is bad form. How’s this?: “You and rafflaw may not be entirely mentally stable.”

  13. Yes, Gino was attempting to TOSS a cowpie grenade at “us people”. BTW-I loved that movie! I heard the sequel, “Subtropic Bottled Lightening”, is slated for next summer.

  14. Gino,

    Unlike the case presented above there actually are mountains of evidence against cheney and bush which could be used as grounds for swearing out a warrent. Don’t go nancy pelosi and deny the existence of the evidence.

    While rafflaw and I may be crazy (afterall he’s a bloglodyte posting from his parents basement and I’m a rebellious teen wearing bellbottoms) that’s no reason to dismiss a perfectly rational argument with name calling.


  15. Jill,
    I was thinking the same thing. We need to get some Good Democratic Kentuckyians to swear out a murder complaint on Bush for the bad humor of lying about the WMD’s and killing over 4400 American soldiers and a few hundred thousand Iraqis. And you are right that Cheney’s humor was even worse than Bullman’s so he has got to go also.

  16. Does this mean a citizen of KY may swear out a warrent on bush for joking about finding WMDs? May they swear one out of cheney for telling Patrick Leahy to, “go f—k yourself”? Time to take advantage of this law for good instead of evil!

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