Monday, October 17, 2011

Ellison family sues over Little Rock police shooting

Posted By on Mon, Oct 17, 2011 at 11:51 AM

From left: Laux, Spencer Ellison, Troy Ellison
  • From left: Laux, Spencer Ellison, Troy Ellison

The sons of Eugene Ellison, 67, who was shot to death by a police officer last December in his Big Country Chateau apartment on Col. Glenn after a struggle in his home, have filed a federal lawsuit in Little Rock alleging their father's civil rights were violated. Officer Donna Lesher, Officer Tabitha McCrillis, LRPD Chief Stuart Thomas, the City of Little Rock and Big Country Chateau Apartments are named as defendants in a suit seeking damages for Ellison's estate.

Here's the full complaint. It offers a different scenario of events than past official accounts. It says that Officer Lesher, who fired the shot, was not in contact with Ellison and thus not in danger at the time she she fired from outside his apartment. Police have said she fired because he wouldn't stop swinging his cane at officers.

More details on the jump...

On Dec 9, 2010, Eugene Ellison was sitting in his apartment at Big Country Chateau with the door open when McCrillis and Lesher, who were working off-duty as security guards at the complex, entered his apartment. After Ellison told them to leave, an argument ensued that quickly turned into a physical confrontation (the lawsuit alleges that McCrillis started the physical fight by shoving Ellison). The two officers called for backup, and LRPD officers Vincent Lucio and Brad Boyce responded. When they arrived, the lawsuit says, they found McCrillis standing outside Ellison's door with her baton laying on the pavement beside her. The lawsuit says that Lucio went into the unit and saw Lesher crouched in a corner. He helped her outside, leaving Ellison inside. When Ellison turned to pick up his cane, the lawsuit alleges, Lesher — standing on the balcony with three other officers — pulled out her service pistol and fired into the apartment, striking Ellison twice in the chest. He later died. An investigation by the Little Rock Police Department cleared Lesher and McCrillis of any wrongdoing in the confrontation and the shooting.

At a press conference today at the Capitol Hotel in Little Rock, the Ellison Family's attorney, Michael J. Laux of the Chicago firm of Balkin and Eisbrouch, LLC, called the shooting a gross violation of Eugene Ellison's civil rights, and said that the investigation which cleared McCrillis and Lesher was "a by product of a culture that has taken hold" at the Little Rock Police Department in which complaints of excessive force and civil rights violations by officers are routinely swept aside. He said he has made Freedom of Information Act requests for information that will prove that pattern. Laux called the shooting of Ellison "an assault on this good city." He is currently seeking information from Little Rock residents about alleged instances of excessive force and rights violations by the LRPD, but said the lawsuit will not become a class action.

Both Troy and Spencer Ellison are veterans of the LRPD. Troy Ellison is currently a detective with the force. His brother Spencer is a former LRPD detective who has taught Criminal Justice courses at a college in Texas for the past few years. While the complaint doesn't specify a monetary amount the Ellison family is seeking, Laux did say the damages they intend to go after from the defendants will be "significant."

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