The Arkansas Democrat-Gazette broke the news today that Little Rock Police Chief Stuart Thomas has decided to suspend Lt. David Hudson for an undetermined period for his actions last October in beating Chris Erwin, a customer at Ferneau restaurant in Hillcrest.
**** UPDATE UPDATE ***
This afternoon, the LRPD announced that Hudson’s punishment would be a 30-day suspension without pay.
***** UPDATE UPDATE *****
Hudson, who was working as as private security guard, said Erwin had been unruly outside the restaurant after being ordered to leave a room in which a private gathering was being held.
The police have not yet released most details on the investigation, but some papers released to the newspaper (pay wall) under the FOI show that Hudson acknowledged in the investigation that Erwin had not struck him. He repeatedly punched Erwin in the face, he said, because he was not trained in the use of pepper spray and didn’t have a stun gun.
Much is wrong here, in addition to use of excessive force. Erwin HAD left the restaurant. He was outside. He asked Hudson why he’d been made to leave. Hudson didn’t like being questioned. When Erwin failed to “comply” with Hudson’s order to go away, the beating began. From a statement Hudson made in the investigation, which was released to the newspaper:
“During this incident, I did everything I could to avoid a conflict but I was ultimately put into a situation where I had to make an arrest and I used no more force than was necessary to arrest Mr. Erwin. The strikes to the face of Mr. Erwin were necessary to gain control and once I felt I had him under control, I ceased striking Mr. Erwin.”
Hudson faces a civil rights lawsuit filed by Erwin and another man arrested that night. Charges Hudson brought against Erwin that night were dismissed after the prosecution resisted providing evidence during the discovery phase of the case.
The always-present question in Little Rock police misconduct allegations: What took so long? Why did it take more than a year to reach a decision about a brutal arrest for what began as the “crime” of questioning a police officer? If failure to comply with an order to leave a public sidewalk is a criminal offense, is a punch-out a defensible reaction by an off-duty cop?
This careful handling of Hudson — and the length of his suspension will be important, too — is particularly questionable given Hudson’s long record. He’s been the subject of 28 complaints in his 34 years on the force. He’s been suspended four times before. It’s not true that all officers pile up long records of complaints on the force. Citizens are reluctant to complain about cops in the first place. They believe, with some justification, the system is rigged because officers investigate their friends and colleagues. Some officers compile more complaints than others. It ought to be a red flag. It has not been.
The police department now faces civil rights lawsuits in deaths of three people who had encounters with police officers. None of these three dead had committed criminal acts before the encounters with cops in which they were killed. Maybe the bright spotlight of those cases finally moved the chief to do SOMETHING about David Hudson. But a year is too long. It does not build confidence.
Interesting, too, will be the response of the Fraternal Order of Police, which naturally rose to Hudson’s defense after the video was released, saying it wasn’t a full record of the incident. The FOP has not been happy of late by comments by black police officers that white officers got disparately easier treatment in investigations of misconduct. The FOP says IT will be the judge of the relative treatment of white and black officers through its minority affairs committee, which apparently has never met.
UPDATE: The LRPD confirmed Hudson’s suspension in the Ferneau beating, but refused to release more information pending resolution of Hudson’s attempt to block release of documents related to the matter. A letter from the chief is expected to be released Monday.