Friday, July 11, 2014

Civil Service Commission clears Little Rock cop who beat bar customer

Posted By on Fri, Jul 11, 2014 at 7:25 AM

click to enlarge AFTER BEATING: Chris Erwin.
  • AFTER BEATING: Chris Erwin.
The Arkanas Democrat-Gazette reported this morning that the Little Rock Civil Service wouldn't follow superiors' recommendations to suspend or fire Police Lt. David Hudson. It overturned his 30-day suspension for beating a bar customer while working private security at Ferneau's restaurant on Kavanaugh in 2011.

cell phone video of the event gave the episode wide attention. The man Hudson beat, Chris Erwin, has filed a federal civil rights lawsuit over the beating

At least one commissioner was quoted as accepting the argument by Hudson's attorney Bill James that Hudson was somehow being punished for appealing. I was confused by this point. He was suspended. He appealed. The city fought the appeal. Then-Chief Stuart Thomas also thought Hudson deserved to be fired for admitting no wrongdoing in the episode, which was triggered when Hudson tried to make Erwin and friends leave for unruly behavior.

The commission apparently accepted James' argument that multiple punishing blows to Erwin after he'd been subdued was not a violation of the department's use of force "continuum."

Assistant Police Chief Eric Higgins said the multiple blows Hudson delivered were more punishment than necessary actions to effect an arrest. That's the impression onlookers drew from events that night.

So there it is: A videotaped police beating with obvious injuries and unified recommendations from veteran police supervisors. Hudson's refusal to admit any missteps. Exoneration by the Little Rock Civil Service Commission (on a 4-1 vote). The crime, remember, was resistance to taking a private security officer's direction to leave a bar. Maybe a misdemeanor. All charges against Erwin were dropped long ago.

That decision sends a clear message to police officers and the public. And it's not a good one, particularly when video cameras aren't handy.

For the record: The Civil Service Commission is, like the Planning Commission that recently approved a convenience store at a terrible location downtown, appointed by Mayor Mark Stodola. It has seven members. The D-G didn't list by name the voters on Hudson's appeal, but these are the current seven members, according to the city website:

Henry Akins II, Roger Ball, Leroy Brownlee, Jeffrey Hildebrand, James Hudson, Brett Morgan and Paula Gray Stitz.

If you know any of them, you might inquire about their thinking. Chairman James Hudson was quoted as saying Hudson's use of force was justified to make the (misdemeanor at best) arrest.

UPDATE: Brownlee was the "no" vote, according to city records. Voting to overturn both the suspension and firing recommendation were Morgan, Hudson, Stitz and Ball. Akins and Hildebrand were absent.

We last visited the Civil Service Commission when it overturned the chief's firing of a cop who directed racial slurs at a man outside a River Market bar. A circuit court reinstated the firing and the Court of Appeals upheld that decision. Coming soon, Josh Hastings' appeal of his firing for a record that included, in the view of superiors, not telling the truth about his actions the night he killed a young man fleeing the scene of a car break-in. Prosecutors dropped a manslaughter charge against Hastings after two hung juries. His checkered career also figured in the firing. Bill James can be expected to make the hearing about the teens in the car fleeing the scene, not Hastings.

Erwin's federal civil rights lawsuit is pending. It has been delayed by a medical problem suffered by his lead counsel, who withdrew from the case.

PS — The city can appeal this decision as it did in the earlier case of the fired cop. Given the repudiation of police leadership by the commission, I think odds of an appeal are good.

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