Police

Arkansas Deputy Charged With Manslaughter for Fatally Shooting Teen Who Was Fixing a Truck

The Lonoke County sergeant was already fired for not turning on his body camera during the encounter.

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Today an Arkansas prosecutor announced that a deputy will be charged with felony manslaughter for shooting and killing an unarmed teen during an early morning roadside stop in June.

According to the family of Hunter Brittain, who was 17 at the time of his death, he had been working on a truck late at night on June 23. He was driving the truck away from a body shop near Cabot, Arkansas, when he was pulled over by Lonoke County Sgt. Michael Davis.

Another teen in the truck, Brittain's cousin Jordan King, said that Brittain exited the truck with a bottle of antifreeze to prop behind the rear wheel due to problems with keeping the vehicle parked. As he approached the back of the truck, Davis shot him. Brittain later died of his injuries.

Davis failed to turn on his body camera as department policy required, so we don't know what might have led to him firing his weapon. In July, Lonoke County Sheriff John Staley announced that Davis had been fired.

At a press conference earlier today, special prosecutor Jeff Phillips said Davis provided an account of what happened that was very different from King's account. Davis reportedly said that he ordered Brittain to show his hands, which Brittain ignored, and Brittain reached into the bed of the truck to get the bottle of antifreeze he wanted to use to stop the truck from rolling back. King said that Brittain had the bottle inside the truck and was already holding it when he exited. King also said Davis did not give Brittain any verbal orders before shooting him.

Brittain's family turned to civil rights attorneys Ben Crump and Devon Jacob, who also represented the family of George Floyd. They put out a statement saying, "Nothing will bring Hunter back, but we can honor his memory and legacy by calling for justice and change in his name. We hope to see former officer Davis held to the fullest extent of the law and we will continue to call for the passage of 'Hunter's Law,' which advocates for heightened body camera enforcement and transparency, so not one more family will have to suffer loss of this magnitude at the hands of law enforcement."

Laws named after people are generally not good ideas, and it looks like Hunter's Law won't be an exception there. More transparency and mandates for police body cameras would be good. But the petition supporters are circulating calls for police to have body cameras on and recording for their entire shift, which is prohibitively expensive. The high cost of body cameras for police departments comes not from the physical cameras themselves, but from the storage of the data, and the burden can cause some departments to drop their plans to implement them. There are workarounds: Some body cameras have buffering systems that are always filming but not storing until the cop turns it on. Then they're able to capture 30 seconds prior to the officer officially starting the recording (which has, on occasion, caught officers misbehaving).

The buffering tool wouldn't have helped here because Davis never turned his camera on. A demand that cops have their body cameras on at all times is, nevertheless, not realistic, and could lead to all sorts of other potential civil rights issues, like police using images of anybody they capture with their camera footage for biometric surveillance. It could also have a chilling effect when police attempt to interview crime witnesses. There are times where we do need the police to be able to talk to people without recording them.

In any event, Davis will face accountability in front of a jury (if he doesn't arrange a plea deal) for this seemingly unjustified and unnecessary killing.

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  1. Meanwhile Noor gets his murder sentence overturned. No justice for Justine.

    1. He didn’t get off completely.

      Minnesota court vacates ex-cop Mohamed Noor’s 3rd-degree murder conviction

      The court said there was insufficient evidence to sustain the conviction and ordered that he be sentenced on his conviction for second-degree manslaughter, a lesser charge.

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    2. Dude’s guilty as hell. Lock him up.

      OTOH, the 3rd degree murder charge shouldn’t have been brought because it doesn’t apply to the facts. The prosecutor rolled the dice by stretching the definition of the charge (and lost).

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  2. The bottle of antifreeze could have been an imaginary fire extinguisher.

    1. You’re gonna trigger White Mike.

      1. The cop couldn’t have known at the time that Hunter wasn’t armed with a nuclear bomb.

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  3. Laws named after people aren’t good? Seems like an inane and pointless comment. Laws are good or bad based on the merits, not the semantics.

    And we don’t have enough cash for the pigs to wear body cams? But there’s plenty of block grants & cash to install surveillance cameras all over town, without asking permission? Oh cry me a river…..poor, underfunded municipal tyrants….the pour souls have only raised property tax at 2 or 3 times the rate of inflation for the last 30 years – poor guys must be STARVING at this point

    1. Laws named after people generally aren’t good because generally that’s a good indicator that the law was written hastily and passed based on emotional reaction rather than reasoned consideration. Laws are indeed good or bad based on the merits – and it is a remarkably reliable rule of thumb that laws named after people are more often bad on the merits than good.

      That said, you’re right to criticize the “we’re too poor” argument by police. DASD is cheap, especially if you implement even minimal buffering to a larger drive in the trunk of the cop car. This is an entirely solvable problem. Cops are dragging their feet because they’re afraid of being held accountable.

      1. Enh, I suspect there are ways around that as well, but they’d all require policies that held people accountable.

        1.) The camera is on all the time. The individual officer is not physically capable of turning the camera off. Being on duty without the camera present constitutes automatic fault on the part of the police officer in any incident. (Hey, they do it to truck drivers, who have a far more dangerous job, regarding logging requirements.)

        2.) Footage is automatically downloaded at the end of shift to a central repository. The individual officer cannot view this footage. Viewing footage requires sign-off from a superior. That sign-off will be logged.

        3.) If an interview needs to happen where the person being interviewed doesn’t want to be recorded and that’s a reasonable request, the interview can be done by someone higher up the chain. Like a detective. Or in the building. But this is not a situation that these beat cops (what an ironic phrase) are going to be in, so… Camera on.

        1. That’s stupid.

          Patrol cops need to turn off or remove cameras to talk to snitches, use the bathroom, and pump breast milk on a break.

          Crimes goes up where cameras are mandatory all shift. Cops will just avoid interactions that are likely to turn ugly.

          Detectives aren’t supervisors. They also have no legal basis to be going through recordings to view or delete evidence.

          Recording all shift multiplies data storage costs. It’s also inefficient to store every moment they’re not interacting with the public or just farting in their vehicle.

          Cops access databases that contain confidential data that’s prohibited by law from being viewed outside their duties. Camera storage of every moment violates that confidentiality. They have to be able to turn off cameras when viewing material that’s legally prohibited from being disseminated.

          1. None of these arguments would apply to vehicle dash cams (except possibly the storage requirements), which in this case might have backed up one side or the other.

            As for storage, a 128GB SD card for a GoPro camera can record 720p 25fps for about 706 minutes (11.75 hours).

          2. Patrol cops need to turn off or remove cameras to talk to snitches, use the bathroom, and pump breast milk on a break.

            I don’t see why. Presumably, that information is stored securely.

            And in any case, most of those things shouldn’t happen during highway patrol.

            Crimes goes up where cameras are mandatory all shift. Cops will just avoid interactions that are likely to turn ugly.

            Yes, there are bad cops like that. That’s not an argument to exempt them from recording.

            Recording all shift multiplies data storage costs. It’s also inefficient to store every moment they’re not interacting with the public or just farting in their vehicle.

            Storage is dirt cheap.

            Cops access databases that contain confidential data that’s prohibited by law from being viewed outside their duties. Camera storage of every moment violates that confidentiality. They have to be able to turn off cameras when viewing material that’s legally prohibited from being disseminated.

            If police can’t guarantee that level of confidentiality for body cam footage, we have a much bigger problem on our hands; that problem needs to be addressed. Perhaps body cam footage of Sgt. Miller’s trip to the urinal will get police unions on board to make sure that that happens.

  4. In any event, Davis will face accountability in front of a jury (if he doesn’t arrange a plea deal or get qualified immunity) for this seemingly unjustified and unnecessary killing.

    1. QI is a shield against civil suits and has nothing to do with criminal cases.

      1. That’s true. But the fine so-not-double-jeopardy practice of civil suits following losses in criminal court provides an opportunity.

      2. Tell us about Ashley babitt, you asshole.

  5. Davis failed to turn on his body camera as department policy required, so we don’t know what might have led to him firing his weapon.

    It was a bottle of antifreeze which led him to fire his weapon. Duh.

  6. “Davis failed to turn on his body camera as department policy required”

    So, evidence of premeditation?
    Book him, Dan-o, murder one – – – –

  7. So, serious question here, I see a lot of accountability kicking in on this case. The officer was fired for not having his bodycam on, now the prosecution is kicking in.

    Is this possible because this locality in Arkansas doesn’t have a deeply entrenched and powerful union?

    1. Honestly, I think it would be interesting to see some objective research comparing police interactions in rural, conservative areas with police interactions in urban liberal areas. I honestly wouldn’t be too surprised if maybe the phenomenon of “cops get away with murder” has a higher correlation with the latter. Which would have some interesting implications for politics. Because it would suggest that at least part of the reason people on the right are so inclined to give the benefit of the doubt to police is that they’re used to “good” policing. Of course, it would be a tough study to do.

      1. In my county and in the towns, we know exactly where the officers and deputies live. They take their vehicles home. We know their wives, husbands, kids, etc. Difficult to murder someone when there’s nowhere to hide

        1. This. There’s something to be said for local accountability.

          There’s an old saying: don’t shit where you eat. When you have to work where you live, you’ll behave better.

          Prison guards shouldn’t live in the same neighborhood where the felons will go after sentences are done. They can’t be afraid of repercussions for doing their job.

          But cops should live where they patrol. They should fear repercussions of not doing their job.

          FWIW, most major democrat cities have it exactly opposite. Policing isn’t local, it’s citywide. The guards fear for their families and let the jails run wild. And cops can’t afford to live in the cities, so they don’t have a real fear of doing a shitty job.

      2. I completely agree with this, there is very good chance that those of us on the right (small town and rural) experience good policing most of the time. The only time I experienced even questionable policing, my wife and I were traveling back from a Texas gulf shores vacation, where we visited her parents – along with our Doberman.

        Two young people, dressed like beach bums, traveling through rural Arkansas, with our “mean” dog – probably looked like potential drug “mules” to the officer. He pulled us over for excessive speed – asked a few questions about where we were going and where we were traveling from, then asked for permission to search – which seemed like profiling – but I let him. We were legally carrying a shotgun in the trunk, he found nothing of interest and sent us on our way – he never even wrote us a ticket – just said watch your speed and have a good day.

        I can say my interactions with police have all been very professional – even when I got a deserved speeding ticket – and another time I was legally carrying a handgun in the passenger compartment.

  8. In any event, Davis will face accountability in front of a jury (if he doesn’t arrange a plea deal) for this seemingly unjustified and unnecessary killing.

    Since judges tend to go really easy on cops, his best bet would be to request a bench trial.

  9. Sgt. Davis commanded Hunter to, “Freeze!” But he was unable to do so.

    1. Chuckle

  10. The important thing is that Davis did not end up getting pinned between the truck’s rear bumper and his car’s front bumper.

    I would be curious to know if the training or culture at Lonoke County Sheriff’s Department was such that made this guy think firing on a motorist with the very thinnest of cause was in any way acceptable.

    1. The anti-freeze bottle was sharp and pointy.

      1. No, it was the very definition of “a blunt object”!

        1. And a deadly poison so TERRORISM!

    2. Failure to obey is considered to be a deadly threat.

      1. Which is the stupidest fucking idea ever, and the source of countless innocent deaths.

        1. Sarc believes that too, if he doesn’t like the person.

    3. I would be curious to know if the training or culture at Lonoke County Sheriff’s Department was such that made this guy think firing on a motorist with the very thinnest of cause was in any way acceptable.

      Well, they fired him and then they charged him. That kind of suggest that the culture wasn’t one where it was acceptable.

  11. “when he was pulled over by Lonoke County Sgt. Michael Davis”

    I thought we weren’t allowed to tell the name of the cop who shot an unarmed civilian since January.

    1. Well, we got a single story about Australia. Who knows, maybe we’ll finally get a story about Ashli Babbot on Reason.com. But probably not. White people committing a trespass violation should absolutely get shot. Well, at least according to Jeffy and Mike.

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  13. By all means respect the presumption of innocence, but the cop could have cleared things up a bit by recording the encounter.

    And for that reason I don’t want to hear “boo hoo, you’re only hearing one side, you cop-haters!” There was a way he could have gotten his side out, if he’d recorded the encounter.

    If he didn’t record a deadly encounter, what *should* be recorded?

    1. Devil’s advocate question —— what if he tried to record the stop, but the cop’s camera failed or the data storage chip malfunctioned?

      Does he lose the presumption of innocence, if a civilian were to ambush the cop, disable his cameras, and the cop was forced to defend himself?

      Does the employer bear responsibility for camera failure? Should every encounter be live-streamed, and what if the connection fails?

      Should cops be sent out with chaperones to mentally remember events and take notes, in case cameras fail? What if the chaperone is shot, should the cop let them die or fire back at the bad guy?

      If the cop shoots back and the chaperone is killed, does he lose his presumption of innocence again?

      This is all a stupid game. Either we hire cops with decency and integrity, or the system will always fail. There’s no technological way around good hiring and good training.

      You can’t get just record things. Likewise, failure to record means nothing.

      1. If any of that happened, it would be bad.

        “failure to record means nothing”

        When they fired him, presumably they thought his omission to record was deliberate.

        If deliberate, why did he do it?

        But I’ll leave that to the jury, if it gets that far.

      2. Found the union rep.

      3. Devil’s advocate question —— what if he tried to record the stop, but the cop’s camera failed or the data storage chip malfunctioned?

        Those situations are easily distinguishable from “the cop didn’t turn it on”.

        You can’t get just record things. Likewise, failure to record means nothing.

        It should be a punishable offense with serious consequence for the cop.

        Either we hire cops with decency and integrity, or the system will always fail.

        If policing requires every police officer to be Jesus, we won’t have a police force at all.

        Cops are just people; sometimes they are good, sometimes they are not. When they are good, we reward them, and when they are bad, we punish them. Same as everybody else. Technology helps with doing that.

    2. I would be willing to bet that the actual incident was much more ambiguous from the viewpoint of the police officer than it has been presented here. It almost always is.

      People make mistakes. They rarely just shoot a kid because they felt like shooting someone that day.

      Body camera footage is imperative for justice in police interactions. We give far too much weight to police testimony… And not just in these scenarios. The FBI and DOJ will charge you with a serious felony based on the recollections of what they claim you said in an interview that they did not record. Unless you sign a statement, this should not be allowed without a recording. There is zero chance you can really get to “beyond a reasonable doubt” based on this criteria.

      I have had occasion to file a report with the police just a few times in my life. They have never gotten the details of the report correct, despite my best efforts. I would never trust any eyewitness testimony completely… Our brains just are not that good at preserving detail.

      If I were a police officer in this era, I would demand body cameras. It might be your only defense. (I would also likely ask to exclude the use of body camera footage for such things as “you made an inappropriate remark” discipline. We have kind of lost our minds on this zero tolerance nonsense)

    3. No cop hater here brother – but when a teenager rushes an officer with a gallon of anti-freeze he deserves to be shot – right?!

      /sarcasm off…

      In all seriousness, this was a bad shoot from the available evidence. The officer appears to have responded out of fear, and did not adequately and accurately assess the threat. We’ve overly trained up our officers to be on a hair trigger – we claim it’s for their safety. Unfortunately, the safety of the public has been compromised as a result.

  14. People need to start traveling with a dog, so that the cops will shoot the dog first and maybe give you a chance.

  15. The technology to have the camera start whenever the officer leaves the car should be trivial.

  16. Why not have some kind of transmitter in the cop car that the body cam turns on automatically when more than 5 feet away for some minimum time. Say 10 minutes unless deliberately turned off?

    1. There is no reason not to record the entire duty shift, bathroom breaks and all.

      While we’re at it, do the same for all elected officials, 24/7.

  17. People should be protesting this killing..honestly where is MCNBC and George W Bush? I mean…opps I get it…nothing to see here..wrong …well you know.

    1. I think you know why this isn’t used as a rallying call for national protests and justified rioting, looting, and burning…

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