Little Rock, AR – A former Little Rock police officer who was arrested for shooting a carjacker in the line of duty has lost his side business and was forced to retire from the department, even though he has been acquitted of all charges.
“For some reason, the ‘not guilty’ didn’t make the [news],” former Little Rock Police Officer Ralph Breshears told Blue Lives Matter on Monday.
“My wife and I have had to live with this hanging over our heads every minute of every day for almost year, and it has been very stressful on both of us, not to mention the financial stress,” he explained.
Officer Breshears, 57, was charged with third-degree battery on Jan. 22, after he shot and injured 22-year-old Rudy Avila as he attempted to flee the scene of a carjacking, according to court documents.
The incident began at a Home Depot store at approximately 1:15 p.m. on July 19, 2017, when police received a report of a shoplifter, the Arkansas Times reported.
The suspect, later identified as Avila, was a convicted felon who had absconded from parole, Breshears told Blue Lives Matter.
As officers were leading Avila out of the store, he managed to break free, and fled from police on foot with his hands cuffed behind him.
Surveillance and dashcam footage showed Avila as he ran past patrol cars in front of the Home Depot, and a pursuing officer noted on his radio that the suspect had slipped out of his handcuffs as they were running.
The foot pursuit continued to a nearby Chick-fil-A restaurant, where Avila attacked a woman in the drive-thru line, and forced her out of her Chevrolet Malibu.
As Avila jumped into the driver’s seat of the woman’s car, Officer Breshears appeared at the passenger side window, and ordered the suspect out of the vehicle.
Avila refused, and began to drive away. That’s when Officer Breshears fired three shots.
The carjacker was hit in the arm, but continued to drive away until a Good Samaritan crashed his own Jeep Wrangler into the fleeing car to stop it, KATV reported.
Avila was taken into custody, and treated for non-life-threatening injuries.
Immediately after the officer-involved shooting occurred, the department initially told Officer Breshears that he would be back to work in three days, he told Blue Lives Matter.
But two days later, he was “relieved of duty” and tasked with office-related duties, he said.
LRPD launched an internal investigation and determined that the officer violated policy, stating that “discharging firearms at a moving or fleeing vehicle is prohibited, unless it is necessary to prevent imminent death or serious physical injury to the officer or another person,” according to KATV.
That policy also required officers to flee from the path of moving vehicles rather than fire at a vehicle.
According to the Arkansas Times, the findings of the internal investigation were sent to the Pulaski County Prosecuting Attorney’s Office on Oct. 20, 2017.
Faced with the realization that he might be criminally charged for protecting himself and others from Avila, Officer Breshears, a 26-year veteran of the department, decided to retire in December of 2017, he told Blue Lives Matter.
He said he had planned to serve his community for many more years.
The retired officer was arrested for third-degree battery in January, according to court documents.
As news of the charges against him spread, his side business as an accident reconstructionist plummeted into nonexistence, he told Blue Lives Matter.
“I started my reconstruction business in 2016,” he explained. “I would only work civil cases, and even doing that I made about [$60,000] in 2017…The media got the story, which killed the business, and it has yet to recover.”
Now, when an attorney asks the former officer if he has ever been arrested, he has no choice but to answer in the affirmative – even though he was acquitted of all charges following a bench trial in September.
“[It] destroys my credibility,” he said. “Before all of this happened, my business line was ringing several times a day, and now it has gone silent.”
In addition, Breshears was fingerprinted and photographed as a result of his arrest, which generated both a State Identification Number (SID) and an FBI number, he explained.
“This will cause me problems any time I attempt to buy a firearm or apply for a job with a police agency or as an instructor with any law enforcement agency, which is something I did regularly before I retired, and had hoped to continue,” Breshears said.
The former officer said he is particularly concerned about how the evidence against him was presented during his trial.
“To make this charge you must have a victim that has an injury from a deadly weapon,” Breshears noted. “The department and the prosecutor’s office said the victim was the owner of the vehicle that Mr. Avila carjacked. [The owner of the vehicle] was not injured and this did not meet the standard of battery third, but I was still arrested and charged.”
Prosecutors argued that Officer Breshears could have injured the owner of the vehicle when he fired his weapon – an allegation he disputes – but because she was not injured, the circumstances did not meet the legal requirements for the charge.
Breshears also raised concerns about the prosecution’s line of questioning during the carjacking victim’s testimony.
“Mr. Avila asked you to get out of the car and assisted you when you exited?” the prosecutor asked the owner of the vehicle during the trial, according to Breshears.
The woman agreed with the prosecutor, despite having previously told investigators that Avila “snatched” her out of her car, Breshears said.
The change in the victim’s account of what took place could potentially put Avila’s conviction into jeopardy, he added.
“The prosecutor was so focused on charging me,” he told Blue Lives Matter. “The prosecutor has minimized the robbery and has placed the chance for an appeal by Mr. Avila in sight.”
Avila was initially charged with criminal attempt to commit capital murder, but that charge was dropped when the case was moved from Little Rock District Court to Pulaski County Circuit Court on Jan. 9, KATV reported.
He later pleaded guilty to robbery and felony theft, and was sentenced to 15 years in prison, the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette reported.
Avila, a parole violator, was also sentenced as a habitual offender for a prior residential burglary, robbery, and breaking and entering case, according to KLRT.
Despite the negative affects he has suffered as a result of the incident, Breshears told Blue Lives Matter that he wouldn’t have done anything differently that day.
“Mr. Avila was out of control and he was obviously determined not to go to jail that day,” the veteran officer said. “I felt – and still feel – that he would have hit me or someone else with the vehicle he had just carjacked in order to escape custody.”
That wasn’t a risk Officer Breshears was willing to take.
“Had I allowed him to escape, and he had killed someone with the car, that would have been a burden that I would not want to carry,” he said.
The former officer has also filed a federal discrimination and retaliation lawsuit against both the city and Little Rock Police Chief Kenton Buckner.