Citing evidence and testimony that has come to light during the discovery phase of a federal civil rights lawsuit filed in 2011, the family of Eugene Ellison, an African-American man killed by Donna Lesher, a white Little Rock Police Department officer in 2010, has
asked released a letter to the press asking Pulaski County Prosecutor Larry Jegley to reopen the controversial police shooting case.
Meanwhile, a federal civil rights trial that has been long delayed will begin May 9. The U.S. Supreme Court recently declined to consider an appeal from Lesher, who contended she should be immune — for acting in an official capacity — from the lawsuit.
Update: Jegley has reached out to say that, while he can’t comment on the Ellison case, he is not yet in receipt of the letter from Spencer Ellison or the Ellison family. He said the first he’d heard about it was when he was contacted about the letter by the press.
Ellison, 67, was shot and killed on Oct. 9, 2010 in his home at Big Country Chateau Apartments near the corner of University and Col. Glenn after two LRPD officers working off-duty security, Lesher and Tabitha McCrillis, walked past his open door and entered after reportedly noticing his house was in disarray. According to LRPD reports, after Ellison tried to push the two officers out, an altercation ensued. According to police, after Ellison attacked the two officers with his walking cane and a baton he was able to wrestle away from McCrillis, Lesher shot Ellison twice with her service handgun.
In May 2011, Pulaski County Chief Deputy Prosecutor John Johnson sent a letter to then-LRPD chief Stuart Thomas, informing him that the shooting had been found to be justifiable homicide, with the officers attempting “multiple non-lethal tactics to subdue Mr. Ellison” before resorting to deadly force when Ellison “armed himself with a cane and accosted the officers with it in a threatening manner.”
In the letter to Jegley, however, Ellison’s son, Spencer W. Ellison, himself an LRPD officer at the time of the shooting, points out a number of facts that the family believes should warrant the case being reopened. Among them:
- Apparent inconsistencies between officer accounts of the shooting and the evidence, including Lesher’s account that she shot Eugene Ellison while Ellison was upright and holding his cane like a bat in a threatening pose. In his letter to Jegley, Spencer Ellison notes that an autopsy of his father’s body found that the bullet trajectories — both described in the autopsy report as “downward” — suggest Ellison was “on his knees, or on his hands and knees, when he was shot,” with the bullets entering at the upper chest and exiting in the lower back after traveling through the body cavity. An attached report by Dr. Mark Shattuck, a kinetic engineer, contends that officer testimony that Ellison was upright and holding his cane over one shoulder as if ready to strike at the time he was shot is “incorrect.” “The bullet wound paths into the torso of Mr. Ellison show that his upper body was near horizontal and/or much lower to the ground at the time of the shooting,” Shattuck writes. “This torso positioning would also mitigate against the reported cane positioning.”
- Deposition testimony by one of the responding officers, Vincent Lucio, who said that the fight between Lesher, McCrillis and Eugene Ellison had ended when Ellison was shot. Lucio went on to confirm that at the time of the shooting, Lesher was standing on the walkway outside the apartment with McCrillis, himself, and another officer, four in total. Lucio went on affirm an attorney’s statement that he never saw Ellison use or threaten to use what Lucio would term deadly force at any time while he was on scene.
- Lesher and McCrillis reporting that they both used pepper spray in an attempt to subdue Ellison before resorting to lethal force, even though, according to the letter and exhibits attached, “there was [no pepper spray] detected by the Little Rock Fire Department, UAMS Emergency personnel, Pulaski County Coroner’s Office, the State Medical Examiner or the Arkansas State Crime Lab, which did extensive testing.”
- The deposition of veteran LRPD Detective J.C. White, who testified that he found the internal investigation into the shooting “disturbing from a professional standpoint” because the question of why Lesher and McCrillis felt the need to enter Ellison’s apartment was disregarded. Asked if he believed Lesher received preferential treatment during the investigation into the shooting, White said “Yes.” White later went on to confirm a previous statement in which he said there was an effort by investigators to make Eugene Ellison “out to be a monster… without having all the facts.” “Did you think that there was an attempt to vilify [Eugene Ellison] in the eyes of the media and the public, so as to take focus away from what actually happened that evening?” Ellison family attorney Mike Laux asked White. “I would say that that’s a possibility, sir,” White responded.
You can read Spencer Ellison’s letter to Jegley, along with deposition testimony, the autopsy report, a report from an engineer who studied the bullet trajectories through Ellison’s body, and other information here: