by Max Brantley
Eugene Ellison, 67, the father of one current and a former Little Rock officer, was fatally shot in his apartment in December 2010 after two off-duty officers — Donna Lesher and Tabitha McCrillis — working as security guards entered the apartment to check on Ellison. They say he reacted violently. The shooting was ruled justified. The family has contended that the internal investigation was flawed because the homicide division that did the work was under supervision of one of the officer's husband and that evidence is inconsistent with the accounts given by officers.
I've sought a comment from LRPD.
UPDATE: Sgt. Cassandra Davis issued this statement:
The Department has complied with all request by The Department of Justice (DOJ) for information and or records in the death investigation of Mr. Eugene Ellison. Those records were made available to the DOJ in 2011. Since the case involving the death of Mr. Eugene Ellison is still in litigation the department will not make any comments as they relate this case.
Family of 67-Year-Old Little Rock Veteran Killed
at Home by Police Appeals to Attorney General
Holder for Civil Rights Investigation
Sergeant Son Demands Action against own Department, Citing
Pattern of Misconduct, Lack of Accountability in Father’s Death
October 08, 2012, Little Rock, Arkansas—Today, attorneys for the family of Eugene Ellison — an elderly African American veteran who was shot and killed by off-duty officers of the Little Rock Police Department (LRPD) after they entered his open door without authorization or cause — submitted a letter to Attorney General Eric Holder, requesting a federal civil rights investigation into both the killing, as well as into the LRPD.
The letter alleges a “troubling pattern of police misconduct” at the Department, stating further that any internal investigations into such misconduct are intended to “exonerate police officers who have committed excessive force, illegal warrantless entries, and other unlawful acts in the course of their duties.” Specifically, the attorneys asked Attorney General Holder to investigate the process by which all officers involved in the assault on Ellison were exonerated. The internal investigation was conducted from within the homicide division: a division supervised by the shooter’s husband. The shooter herself, Donna Lesher, has a spotted history of disciplinary action within the LRPD.
Ellison’s sons, Troy and Spencer, each have an employment history with the LRPD: Troy is currently a sergeant there while Spencer, formerly a detective, is now an adjunct college professor of criminal justice. Said Spencer of the shooting and subsequent internal investigation: “my father was a private man who lived peaceably in his apartment for over 10 years. His murder devastated us. Then, instead of getting a chance to heal, we were forced to suffer the LRPD’s decision to place the shooter’s long-time friends in charge of collecting information to send to the Prosecuting Attorney’s Office, rather than ensuring an impartial investigation. Justice must be done.”
The incident in question occurred on December 9, 2010, when two white, female, off-duty officers — Donna Lesher and Tabitha McCrillis — were moonlighting as security guards at Ellison’s apartment complex. That evening, they approached his open door. From the doorway they harassed Ellison with questions. He asked them to leave him alone. Despite his plea, they entered Mr. Ellison’s apartment. During later questioning, Officer McCrillis would state that she entered Mr. Ellison’s apartment because the 67-year-old was “mouthy” with them. Once both officers entered, a physical struggle was initiated by Officer McCrillis shoving Mr. Ellison. Soon, two (2) backup officers arrived. They saw no physical contact between Mr. Ellison and anyone, meaning whatever struggle there was, it was now over. All four (4) were outside on the apartment walkway with only Mr. Ellison inside. For reasons that are still unclear, Officer Lesher fired from outside the apartment inside, killing Mr. Ellison in his own home.
The Ellison family alleges that the facts as outlined by Officers Lesher and McCrillis are inconsistent with the evidence, including the first responder, emergency room and medical examiner’s reports. Both officers claim they were severely beaten by Ellison, yet their disclosed medical records show bruising and soreness, while Ellison’s autopsy shows severe trauma, including to his genitals, where Officer Lesher admits to having struck him several times. The officers also claim to have used pepper spray prior to shooting, but both the EMS and medical examiner’s reports say that absolutely no pepper spray was present on Mr. Ellison’s body or clothing. Further, the shooting angle indicates Ellison was below Officer Lesher when she shot him and not, as she alleges, towering over her wielding his walking cane like a baseball bat.
The letter seeks a meeting with Holder or his office, and, in contrast to that undertaken by the LRPD, an “objective, professional criminal investigation of the actions of Lesher and McCrillis.” It also asks for an examination of prior internal investigations conducted by the LRPD “for the sake of public safety in Little Rock.”
The letter to AG Holder was drafted and signed by Mike Laux, one of the attorneys for the Ellison family who said: “After all, the most basic right we have as Americans is the right to be left alone in the sanctity of our homes. That's all Mr. Ellison wanted. He asked these officers to be left alone. It is truly a sad state of affairs where an unprovoked, violent intrusion like this goes unchecked."