Russellville, AR – The former Lonoke County sheriff’s sergeant who fatally shot 17-year-old Hunter Brittain during a traffic stop in June was charged with manslaughter in the teen’s death on Friday.
Special Prosecuting Attorney Jeff Phillips made the announcement about the charges during a press conference on Sept. 17, the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette reported.
Phillips, who serves as a prosecutor in the state’s 5th Judicial District, was appointed special prosecutor for the Brittain case in July.
The fatal shooting occurred at approximately 3 a.m. on June 23, after then-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 Arkansas State Police.
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.
But on July 3, Lonoke County Sheriff John Staley released a video statement that explained he had terminated Sgt. Davis for failing to follow department policy and activate his bodycam.
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 state police and prosecutors would answer the first question about whether the criminal charges should be brought against the deputy.
However, the sheriff said it was up to him to determine whether Sgt. 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.”
The special prosecutor appointed to investigate the case reached his conclusion in September and filed manslaughter charges against the 30-year-old former sergeant for the shooting of Brittain.
Phillips explained at the press conference announcing the charges that manslaughter is a class C felony that carries a sentence of three to seven years in prison, the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette reported.
Davis turned himself in to the state police at noon on Sept. 17 and was booked into the Lonoke County Detention Center, KATV reported.
The he was transferred to another undisclosed jail facility for holding until his hearing on Monday morning.
The former law enforcement officer appeared before 23rd Circuit Court Judge Ashley Parker in a small courtroom at the Lonoke County Sheriff’s Office on Sept. 20, 4StateNews.com reported.
Parker granted Davis a $15,000 bond, which was exactly what the prosecutor had requested.
As conditions of his release, he may not consume alcohol, use firearms, or have any contact with Brittain’s family, 4StateNews.com reported.
The judge also said that Davis may also be subject to regular drug screening by the court.
Davis’ defense attorney, Robert Newcomb, asked Parker to likewise instruct the Brittain family that they were not to contact his client, 4StateNews.com reported.
Although Parker did not issue an order to that effect, the judge reminded the family that they could be charged for any unlawful behavior.
Davis is scheduled to next appear in court on Nov. 15, according to 4StateNews.com.