Little Rock Police Chief Stuart Thomas announced today that Patrol Officer Joshua Hastings, 26, was charged with felony manslaughter in the Aug. 12 fatal shooting of Bobby Moore, a 15-year-old suspected car burglar at a West Little Rock apartment complex.
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Hastings had said he fired on a Honda Civic because he feared for his life as it sped toward him. Sources told me earlier the investigation produced discrepancies between Hastings’ account and other evidence, particularly in the speed and direction of the car that Hastings said he felt threatened by.
A brief statement issued by Chief Thomas said two separate investigations — by major crimes and internal affairs — led him to “conclude the incident did not occur in the manner represented by the officer and that the use of deadly force did not conform to department orders.” He said he’d conferred with Prosecutor Larry Jegley in reaching the decision to file the charge.
Thomas noted that Hastings had said he identified himself, shouted for the driver of the car to stop and fearing it was about to hit him, with no way to retreat, fired at the car. Hastings told other officers that the vehicle continued past him a short distance up a slight incline then rolled backwards some distance before colliding with a parked car. Two occupants fled. The driver, Moore, was found dead at the scene.
The evidence developed during the course of the investigation(s) indicates that the vehicle approaching the officer had, in fact, stopped several feet from him and that the driver was in the process of reversing direction when the shots were fired. Medical opinion provides that the driver was immediately incapacitated by his wounds. There is no evidence to support the officer’s claim that the vehicle continued past him, and significant indication that the vehicle would necessarily had to have been in reverse at some point to reach the location of its collision with a parked car
The affidavit filed for issuance of an arrest warrant provided more details of the night, including what witnesses said about Hastings’ statement that the car had driven past him, over a curb and into rocks. The two occupants of the car both told police that the car had stopped and the driver tried to back up.
Keontay Walker, 16, who was riding in the front seat, said that when the car neared a dumpster in the parking lot, he saw a light and told Moore to stop that it was the police. According to the affidavit:
Mr. Walker said Bobby stopped the car about five feet from the officer, put it in reverse and started backing down the hill. Mr. Walker said that he heard “pow, pow, pow” and the officer yelled, “Stop, stop or we’ll fire.” Mr. Walker said he heard Bobby moan and realized that he had been shot. Walker further stated the car continued down the hill and crashed into another car.
Jeremiah Johnson, who ws riding in the backseat, gave a similar account. Said the affidavit:
While it appears that the vehicle was driving toward Hastings at some point, all of the physical evidence is consistent with statements made by the occupants of the car, indicating that the car was stopped, or in reverse at the time Hastings fired, and not traveling toward him at a high rate of speed, as Hastings indicated in his statement.
The affidavit said no evidence could be found at the scene or on the undercarriage of the victim’s car that indicated the car traveled over a curb or up an embankment as Hastings said. The autopsy on Moore indicated he was wounded in the left middle finger, right shoulder and left side of the head. Dr. Daniel Dye said Moore “would have died immediately from the gunshot wound to the head and would have been unable to make any conscious decision or coordinated movements at all after that injury.”
The police statement said the family of the victim had been notified. They’ve criticized police action in interviews previously with several TV stations.
Hastings’ employment with the department will be continued while the case pends. Guilty or innocent, the department’s filing of a felony charge is nonetheless a clear statement on Hastings’ judgment that night. It’s the latest in a five-year history at the department marked by frequent public complaints, multiple suspensions and questions by supervisors about his judgment and honesty. Hastings was placed on administrative leave after the shooting.
The announcement was made by news release and there was no opportunity to ask questions of the chief. Sgt. Cassandra Davis said Hastings was arrested and processed prior to the release. There’ll be no “perp walk” for cameras. His bond was set at $15,000 when the warrant for his arrest was issued in Little Rock District Court. He bonded out of the county jail about 3:30 p.m.
Manslaughter is a class C felony that can be applied to, among others, someone who recklessly causes the death of another person. It can carry a sentence up to 10 years. Authorities, in weighing whether to charge Hastings with a more serious offense, had to consider that he’d offer the defense that his action was justified by a threat. The manslaughter charge gives more leeway to challenge that judgment as being recklessly formed. I’ve been seeking a comment from Hastings or his attorney. Keith Wren, attorney for the Fraternal Order of Police, had provided some counsel to Hastings in the early stages of the investigation, but he said he wouldn’t be working on the criminal case.
Hastings’ arrest is without precedent in my memory. Cops have been charged in thefts and domestic abuse cases, among others, over the years. But I can’t recall a charge filed against an officer in the death of a criminal suspect.
- BOBBY MOORE: Killed by police fire.
Hastings killed Bobby Moore, who it developed later awaited trial on a carjacking charge. The car, occupied by two others, was stolen, but these facts weren’t known to Hastings in the early morning shooting. He was alone and investigating reports of car break-ins at the Shadow Lake Apartments at 13111 W. Markham.
Police use of force is always a charged topic and not infrequent. Moore’s shooting followed by two days the fatal shooting of a man who pointed a gun at officers responding to a domestic disturbance call in Leawood. In January, SWAT officers making a no-knock drug raid killed a man holding a weapon when they broke into his home on Tyler Street. The raid turned up none of the serious drugs believed to have been sold in the house. Another police officer was cleared of wrongdoing last year when he fired on a car attempting to leave the Park Plaza parking deck after an officer working as a private security guard tried to stop the occupants to ask them about remarks they’d made to a teenaged girl. The driver was wounded, but survived. Even more controversy has attended the fatal 2010 shooting by officers working as private security at a Col. Glenn apartment complex. Eugene Ellison, 67, was killed when he reacted violently to the entry of two officers through an open door to inquire about his well-being. That death is the subject of a lawsuit filed by Ellison’s family, which included a current and former Little Rock police officer. The Hastings case has a family connection, too. This inevitably adds to the sensitivity and heightened public attention that accompanies any investigation of police force. His father is Lt. Terry Hastings, a veteran officer, former spokesman for the department and well-liked division commander.
The young Hastings’ judgment has been called into question before. He’s been controversial in the black community for once having attended a KKK meeting, an incident he explained as a youthful mistake. A review of available personnel records recently by the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette turned up on-the-job problems — six suspensions arising from 18 complaints since joining the force in 2007. Those records reportedly showed he violated policies on crime reports, use of recording equipment and speeding. He’s been cited for insubordination, a reckless disregard for public safety, damaged department property, missing court and sleeping on the job — all according to the newspaper review. Significantly, the records quoted a supervisor as saying Hastings had lied about circumstances in a case in which he left his patrol area to join a State Police chase, speeding there and then back at speeds around 120 mph, but still too late to back up another officer. In May, a supervisor noted Hastings’ disciplinary history and wrote, according to the D-G, “He has continuously shown poor decision-making and unprofessionalism as a Little Rock police officer. I have great concern for his mental stability and decision-making as an [officer].”