The fatal shooting of Eugene Ellison, 67, in his apartment by Little Rock police working as private security is examined today by the Washington Post.
A lawsuit over the killing is heading to trial Monday. The police say deadly force was used because Ellison became combative after they entered his apartment, unbidden, through an open door and he raised a cane at an officer. The case doesn’t present a pretty picture of Little Rock to the outside review:
Five years later, the tragic death of Eugene Ellison still haunts Little Rock, splitting the city and its 540-officer police department along racial lines. It shows what can happen when police investigate their own in cases of fatal shootings and end up with results that leave little resolved in the minds of the public. Allegations of favoritism, collusion, conflicts of interest and special treatment have hovered over the case from the beginning, according to interviews, court records and previously undisclosed internal affairs files obtained by The Washington Post.
The article notes relationships on both sides of the equation. Ellison was the father of two Little Rock police officers. Officer Donna Lesher, who fired the fatal shot while working with Tabitha McCrillis, is married to a homicide detective who was supervisor of officers who investigated the shooting.
The article arises from the Post’s ongoing work on police-involved shootings, particularly those with racial aspects, as in the Ellison shooting. Ellison is black; the officers white. The officers not only were cleared of criminal wrongdoing, no action was taken against them after an internal affairs review. The federal Justice Department also found insufficient evidence to pursue a civil rights case.
The article notes differences of opinion among homicide detectives — split on racial lines — on whether the department should investigate its own in such a case.
“That’s like having to investigate your boss’ wife,” Sgt. Jonathan C. White, another Little Rock homicide detective who is black, said in a sworn statement after the shooting. “It’s just an uncomfortable position all the way around to put everybody in an uncomfortable position. Not only myself. And that’s why I think that — to me that’s the very reason it should have went out of house immediately, so that we wouldn’t have been put in that position.”
Several other detectives on the case — about a dozen worked on it in total — said they were comfortable with how it was conducted.
The article reports Lesher’s spotty record and the fact that future chief Stuart Thomas had argued against her hiring.
The recitation of the shooting is gripping. Four officers are outside the apartment when Lesher fires inside the apartment at Ellison, who is holding a cane.
The article quotes from sworn testimony already taken in the case:
In one of those statements, Laux asked Donna Lesher whether she could have left Ellison’s apartment without shooting him.
“Certainly in the second before you shot Mr. Ellison you could have — you could have walked away. Correct?”
“Yes,” Lesher said.
Laux also questioned Lucio, one of the backup officers.
“I did not fear him,” Lucio said.
“You did not have a fear of deadly force from Mr. Ellison when you got there, did you?” Laux asked.
“No, I did not.”