By Sandy Malone and Holly Matkin
Lonoke, AR – The Lonoke County sheriff has fired the deputy who fatally shot 17-year-old Hunter Brittain for failing to activate his bodycam before the incident started.
Lonoke County Sheriff John Staley said he released the video statement on Thursday so he could talk directly to his community.
“You have a right to know the latest about the Hunter Brittain matter,” Sheriff Staley said as the video began. “There’s a lot of noise, misinformation, downright lies on social media, so I’ll set it straight.”
The sheriff said there were two different issues at hand – did the deputy act legally and did the deputy act within Lonoke County Sheriff’s Office policy.
He said the Arkansas State Police (ASP) and prosecutors would answer the first question about whether the criminal charges should be brought against the deputy.
“I have nothing to do with it, nor should I. That’s the whole point behind an independent investigation,” Sheriff Staley explained.
However, the sheriff said it was up to him to determine whether Lonoke County Sheriff’s Office (LCSO) Sergeant Michael Davis had followed proper sheriff’s department policy during the incident.
“I gave my deputies bodycameras,” he said. “I directed them to use the bodycameras properly. Our policy says the deputy must activate the camera before encountering any member of the public, and while taking official action, and certainly as part of any traffic stop.”
“My review of this deputy’s actions has determined that he did not activate his bodycamera in a timely way,” Sheriff Staley continued. “This means there is no video of the actual shooting. We see the aftermath, but not the shooting. Due to that failure, I have terminated the employment of that deputy.”
Then the sheriff addressed the virtual firestorm of hatred being directed at the Lonoke County Sheriff’s Office.
“Out-of-state activists and others have blown up social media with irresponsible and hateful statements and that has led to dozens of death threats,” Sheriff Staley said. “Every one of those threats is a crime, and there are investigations underway. Threatening to kill and rape us, and our family members, is beyond disgraceful.”
The fatal shooting occurred at approximately 3 a.m. on June 23, after Lonoke County Sheriff’s Office (LCSO) Sergeant Michael Davis stopped Brittain on Arkansas 89 near Mahoney’s Body Shop, KATV reported.
Jordan King, 16, said he and Brittain had been working on changing the transmission on Brittain’s truck so he would be able to use it to get to work the next morning.
King said they were pulled over as they were test-driving the vehicle to see if the repairs they made had worked, KATV reported.
According to King, the truck wouldn’t shift into park and they were afraid the vehicle would roll into Sgt. Davis’ patrol car, so Brittain jumped out to place an oil jug behind the tire to stop the truck from moving, KATV reported.
He said he did not hear the sergeant issue any commands to Brittain before the gunfire rang out.
“They didn’t say one word that I know of,” King told KATV. “I didn’t hear it and it happened so fast.”
A second deputy arrived moments later.
“[He] told me get out with my hands up and pull my shirt up and stuff, and then took me to the ground, put me in handcuffs and was dragging me around and stuff,” King told KATV. “And then I sat in the back of the cop car for about three hours.”
He said he was later interviewed by the ASP.
King claimed Brittain was unarmed during the fatal encounter, KATV reported.
Sgt. Davis, an eight-year veteran of the department, was immediately placed on administrative leave while the investigation was conducted, as is protocol for all deputy-involves shootings, the LCSO said in a press release on June 23.
Family and friends of Brittain have protested daily at the sheriff’s department since the 17 year old was fatally shot and demanded Sheriff Staley terminate and charge Sgt. Davis.