Little Rock, AR – An Arkansas jury on Monday found that Little Rock Police Officer Dennis Hutchins did not use excessive force when he fatally shot 46-year-old Roy Lee Richards Jr. in 2016.
The ruling dashed Richards’ family’s hopes they would be awarded millions of dollars for the death of the armed man.
The incident occurred at 12:40 a.m. on Oct. 25, 2016 when Little Rock police responded to a call for a fight between Richards and his uncle, Darrell Underwood, in the 500-block of East Eighth Street, the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette reported.
Officer Hutchins and Little Rock Police Officer Justin Tyer were warned as they responded to Underwood’s home that Richards was armed.
As the officers approached, Officer Hutchins saw Richards jump out of a vehicle holding a gun, the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette reported.
Officer Hutchins opened fire and fired five shots at Richards.
Richards was struck twice and killed, the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette reported.
It turned out that Richards’ rifle was a pellet gun.
Pulaski County Prosecuting Attorney Larry Jegley sent a letter to the Little Rock Police Department in March of 2017 that cleared Officer Hutchins of any wrongdoing in connection with the shooting death of Richards, the Associated Press reported at the time.
But despite the prosecutor having ruled the shooting justified, Richards’ sister filed a lawsuit against Officer Hutchins on behalf of her brother’s estate that sought millions of dollars in damages, the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette reported.
Vanessa Cole’s lawsuit argued that Officer Hutchins had used excessive force against her brother, and had in doing so violated Richards’ constitutional rights of equal protection and unreasonable search and seizure.
Officer Hutchins’ attorney argued that the 20-year veteran of the Little Rock police force had no choice but to shoot when he saw Richards holding the rifle after having had a violent altercation with a family member, the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette reported.
The jury deliberated for hours, giving Cole’s attorneys hope they were discussing damages, but when they finished, jurors found that Officer Hutchins had not used excessive force when he fatally shot Richards.
“I think the verdict was appropriate. I think this was a situation where an officer faced, what he felt and what he could tell at that point, was a life-ending possibility and acted to keep that from happening,” Little Rock City Attorney Tom Carpenter told the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette.
After the jury returned its verdict, lawyers for Richards’ family filed a motion for a mistrial with Chief U.S. District Judge D. Price Marshall Jr. and argued that the jurors had engaged in jury nullification by ignoring expert testimony, the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette reported.
They also said that answers the jury had given on disputed questions were in “conflict.”
Attorney Mike Laux said after the verdict that he would file an appeal “if it seems viable, and at this point it certainly does.”
Judson Kidd, another attorney for Cole, said the family was crushed by the jury’s verdict, the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette reported.
“Ms. Cole lost her brother — her only brother — her protector as she so testified,” Kidd said. “And we have two boys, 14 and , who lost their father, lost his financial and emotional support. And we got Roy Richards Sr., the father, who has lost his only son. So obviously they are devastated by the verdict.”