Attorneys for the family of a man killed by a Little Rock Police Department officer in October 2016 say that a video released to the media yesterday, shot from a dashcam in the officer's cruiser, both proves the family's account of the shooting and shows that the LRPD didn't fully comply with the state Freedom of Information Act when the family requested all materials related to the case. Attorneys for the family say the video was not included in materials released to them following a recent FOIA request.
Roy Lee Richards, 46, who lived in apartments on Green Mountain Drive, was killed on October 25, 2016, after officers responded to a disturbance call at 514 E. 8th St. When officers arrived, the report filed at the time said, they saw Richards chasing his uncle, Derrell Underwood, 53, with a "long gun." LRPD officer Dennis Hutchins shot Richards, reportedly with an LRPD-issued AR-15 assault rifle. According to the report, Underwood told police that he and Richards had engaged in an argument that became a physical fight, with bystanders calling the police. Richards' rifle turned out to be a pellet gun.
The LRPD account was almost immediately contradicted, with Underwood telling activists with the Little Rock chapter of Black Lives Matter that he wasn't in danger when the shots were fired. In a videotaped statement later posted to YouTube, Underwood said that when the police arrived, he went into his house, locked the door, and had gone to the back room of the house to wake up a sleeping relative when he heard the gunshots that killed his nephew. In the video, Underwood and Richards' nephew Antonio Jackson say police arrived without lights and sirens, parked down the street, and said nothing to Richards before he was shot.
In their press release, Richards' family says the video shows that police approached without lights and sirens, parked so as to not be seen, and that Hutchins "gave no warning before he fired his assault weapon multiple times" at Richards. "In short," the statement reads, "the released video proves the material allegations contained in Plaintiff’s complaint." In the video, two patrol cars turn off even their headlights as they approach the scene, and the sound of a round being chambered in a rifle can be heard immediately after the officers exit their cars. Shots are fired less than 30 seconds after police arrive on scene, and the officers can't be heard announcing their presence beforehand. The shooting is not seen in the video.
Chicago attorney Mike Laux and attorneys with the Little Rock firm of Dodds, Kidd, Ryan & Rowan are representing Richards' family in the case. Laux has become something of a thorn in the side of the LRPD in recent years, filing civil rights lawsuits over high profile police shootings of black citizens, including the Dec. 2010 shooting case of Eugene Ellison, a 67-year-old Navy veteran shot in his apartment near the intersection of Col. Glenn and University Ave. after an altercation with police., and Bobby Moore, a 15-year-old shot in August 2012 by LRPD Officer Josh Hastings after Hastings responded to reports of someone breaking into cars at Shadow Lakes Apartment complex in West Little Rock.
The city paid out a record $900,000 settlement and issued a formal apology over the Ellison shooting in May 2016. In April of this year, a federal jury awarded $415,000 to Moore's family in their lawsuit against former LRPD officer Josh Hastings. Laux represented the families in both those cases.
You can read the Richards' family press release below:
VIDEO RELEASED BY LRPD CONFIRMS FAMILY’S
ACCOUNT OF ROY RICHARDS SHOOTING
Today, the LRPD released to the media a dashboard MVR video (“MVR”) recording from Officer Juston Tyer, who was on-duty and alongside Officer Dennis Hutchins when the latter shot and killed Roy Richards with an assault rifle. The Richards family issues the following statements:
1. First, the LRPD violated the Arkansas FOIA statute by improperly withholding all MVR recordings, in violation of FOIA. The Richards family requested the entire criminal file, but the file the family received contained no video. The FOIA statute expressly includes audio and video within its scope, and defines “public records” as including “…recorded sounds, films, tapes, electronic or computer-based information…that constitute a record of the performance or lack of performance of official functions that are or should be carried out by a public official or employee…” Despite the express language of the FOIA statute, the City of Little Rock withheld all MVR video until June 7, 2017, and this was after multiple requests.
2. Second, the Richards family is in possession of an affidavit from a former LRPD supervisor and an administrator who each admit to the LRPD’s historical pattern of improperly withholding MVR recordings from Little Rock citizens’ FOIA requests despite the express language of the FOIA statute. If the citizen is unaware that video exists, he or she does not receive it. This is an impermissible shifting the burden from the public agency to the citizen, and it is runs counter to the express language of the FOIA statute. These affidavits and the FOIA statute are attached.
3. Third, and most importantly, the video released by the LRPD proves Plaintiff’s claims that the officers approached with no police lights and without identifying themselves. It proves that they parked their police cars so as not to be seen. It proves that Officer Hutchins observed a physical altercation and did nothing to stop it, and did not announce his presence. It proves that Officer Hutchins gave no warning before he fired his assault weapon multiple times at Mr. Richards. It proves that Derrell Underwood stated within minutes of the shooting that he was inside his house when he heard the gunshots, and not outside as the City would have the public believe. In short, the released video proves the material allegations contained in Plaintiff’s complaint.
4. Rather than attempting to appear transparent or cynically downplaying the significance of this incriminating video, Chief Kenton Buckner, the LRPD and the City should all think seriously about the corrosive precedence they create when they marshal the City’s resources, personnel and legitimacy defending clearly improper shootings like the one that took the life of Roy Richards last October. The City needs to choose its battles wisely, and apologize to the Richards family.