Monday, November 5, 2012

Lawsuits filed over Little Rock police shooting deaths

Posted By on Mon, Nov 5, 2012 at 12:51 PM

MICHAEL LAUX: Files two more suits against LR police.
  • MICHAEL LAUX: Has two more suits against LR police.
As mentioned here Sunday, two more federal lawsuits were filed this afternoon challenging Little Rock police actions in shooting deaths.

Both are the work of Michael Laux, the Chicago lawyer who'd earlier sued over the shooting death of Eugene Ellison by officers working private security. He's said the Little Rock police use of deadly force has been disproportionate to other departments and poorly regulated and investigated.

The two suits, provided to me in draft form before filing:

* LANDRIS HAWKINS: The estate of Landris Hawkins has sued Officers James Christ and Jason Roberts, Chief Stuart Thomas and the city. Hawkins was shot to death in his home Nov. 3, 2009 after police responded to a call from his grandmother that he was threatening to cut his own throat and, later, was stabbing himself. The grandmother cut her hand trying to take the knife away, but otherwise wasn't threatened, according to the account in the lawsuit. But the officers fired from the porch of the residence inside, through a glass door.

The lawsuit says the force was excessive for the circumstances, an attempted suicide call, and that officers ignored department rules on dealing with mentally disturbed people. The lawsuit criticizes the police review of such shootings, too. It says the chief and city have disregarded or covered up excessive force by officers and tolerated "LRPD officers' disregard of facts and behavior indicating mental illness in persons during police encounters."

COLLIN SPRADLING: Suit filed over his killing by police.
  • COLLIN SPRADLING: Suit filed over his killing by police.
* WILLIAM COLLIN SPRADLING: The estate of Collin Spradling has sued Officers Clay Hastings, Michael Ford, Steve Woodall and Aaron Simon over Spradling's shooting death July 16, 2008 at a home on Gillette Drive. According to the complaint, a woman fabricated a burglary complaint against Spradling and police were seeking him at a friend's house on that complaint. The lawsuit says the officer encouraged Spradling's friend to get him to come outside because they didn't have a warrant for his arrest. It says the officers didn't use procedure required for seeking someone they believed, even erroneously, to be an armed felon.

When Spradling came out, officers said he resisted and was taken to the ground. The lawsuit continues:

Within seconds, C. Hastings placed his gun behind Collin's left ear. A short time later, Woodall, C. Hastings and Fordshot at Collin multiple times, killing him.

A gun that Spradling allegedly carried was moved from where he fell, officers would later say, though three non-police witnesses said they never saw Spradling with a gun.

The lawsuit complains that the officers were not separated after the shooting, but were seen talking together, an opportunity to alter stories. The lawsuit also says Police Lt. Terry Hastings, father uncle of Clay Hastings, delivered the news of Spradling's death to his wife, but did not tell her his own nephew was involved. The lawsuit said Hastings told her — incorrectly — that officers were serving a search warrant and that they fired after Spradling produced a gun and pointed it at the officers.

The lawsuit further contends that, during the investigation, a police detectiv e interrupted another witness' account when she began to give information contrary to the police version of events, including that she did not believe Spradling could have had a gun. Another witness also said Spradling was not armed before the shooting and that his hands were behind his back when he was shot. The lawsuit said the detective avoided asking questions that could have incriminated the officers. It also said officers involved in the shooting were apprised of witness statements before their statements were taken to give them the opportunity to counter incriminating statements and that they were asked leading questions designed to exonerate them. The lawsuit also raises questions about an off-the-record conversation Detective Tommy Hudson had with a friend of Spradling who was not a witness to the shooting. The man had police issues of his own, the suit says, and after the off-the-record talk went on the record to say Spradling had once said he'd never be taken alive by police.

The lawsuit alleges that police fraudulently concealed information, an element necessary to pursue the case because the statute of limitations otherwise has run. Among others, the police didn't fully respond to FOI requests on the case, the suit says.

Sgt. Cassandra Davis, the police department spokesperson, said the chief was aware of the new actions but because they would be in litigation would not have a comment.

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