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Brantley: Who'll police the cops? 

click to enlarge Little Rock Police Chief Stuart Thomas image
  • Little Rock Police Chief Stuart Thomas

It took more than a year, but the Little Rock Police Department finally decided a complaint against Lt. David Hudson, who beat a Hillcrest restaurant customer Oct. 29, 2011.

Police Chief Stuart Thomas decided that Hudson would be suspended for a month without pay because the force he used during the arrest of the customer "exceeded the force which was reasonable and necessary."

Significantly, the chief's suspension letter had no discussion of whether Hudson had any business trying to arrest Chris Erwin in the first place.

Erwin had been asked to leave a party room in Ferneau's restaurant where a private party was being held. He left — grudgingly according to some witnesses. On a sidewalk outside the restaurant, where Hudson was working off-duty as private security, Erwin asked Hudson who wanted him to leave. According to Hudson's account, he told Erwin the information "was not relevant." He ordered Hudson to leave (on what authority is unclear). When Erwin "continued to refuse," Hudson moved to arrest Erwin. He pushed him against an outside wall of the restaurant. Hudson said Erwin struggled, but he also acknowledged that Erwin never attempted to strike him. Hudson wasn't restrained. He said he determined that Erwin wasn't going to comply and struck him multiple times in the "facial area," wrestled him to the ground and took him into custody. Erwin's offenses: Resisting arrest (arrest for what?), criminal trespass (of a public sidewalk?) and disorderly conduct (putting his face in the way of a police officer's fist?). Ultimately, the charges were dismissed. The prosecution, in delaying a response to requests for evidence, indicated it didn't have much to work with. Erwin has filed a civil rights lawsuit.

The police department's hand was forced into a rare suspension here because a cell phone video was made when Hudson beat a smaller man as shocked onlookers shouted for him to stop.

Hudson is a 34-year veteran of the force and no stranger to disciplinary reviews. He's been named in 28 department and citizen complaints and suspended four times. He was exonerated by the department four times for use of excessive force. None of those cases had benefit of video testimony.

If a cop beating someone for the crime of refusing to move along isn't a firing offense you have to ask: What does it take to get fired from the Little Rock Police Department? A manslaughter charge finally resulted in a firing recently, but it was of a cop with a long list of past disciplinary problems and suspensions.

Thomas' decision on Hudson sends a chilling signal. Even with multiple witnesses and video, a beating of a non-criminal for backtalking an officer acting as a private security guard is not a firing offense. It gives the public every reason to wonder what happens when the lights are out, no videos are running and confrontations occur in poorer parts of town. It's a wonder, really, that anybody is ever brave enough to complain about the actions of a Little Rock cop. What's the point?

If you were Chris Erwin, or anybody else, would you want to run into David Hudson when he's in a bad mood?

The chief can cover up for bad actors, but maybe not forever. Three lawsuits are pending over fatal police shootings of non-criminals. As far as we know, none produced so much as a caution letter for cops involved or improvement of police procedures for handling difficult but non-criminal people like Chris Erwin and the three men slain. These cases may yet force changes and accountability in Little Rock policing that, regrettably, the chief still resists.

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