State Rep. John Walker, 79, the civil rights lawyer, and a fellow lawyer, Omavi Kushukuru, 29, were arrested by Little Rock police this morning for obstructing governmental operations.
Our unconfirmed report was that the arrest followed Walker photographing a police arrest or traffic stop about 11:30 a.m. I’m guessing the camera work might have included commentary by Walker.
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UPDATE: The incident arose from a traffic stop of another car and subsequent arrests of the occupants, observed by Walker. My guess that Walker had not been silent during the encounter with police proved accurate. The police report says the arrest was, not for filming as some reports from Walker’s friends first suggested, but for failure to follow orders to leave the arrest scene.
The incident began shortly before 11 a.m. in the 500 block of East Ninth, at MacArthur Park. Officer Jasmine Reynolds filed the report.
Police stopped a car without a license plate at Ninth and Commerce. The driver, Cedric Bell, 27, did not have a driver’s license. A records check also showed he was wanted on outstanding warrants, including a theft warrant from North Little Rock. He was handcuffed and being walked to a patrol car. Walker and his colleague apparently arrived on the scene around this time. The report continues:
As Reynolds was walking Bell to our vehicle, Bell asked what Walker was doing filming the arrest. At that point I heard Walker state, “I’m just making sure they don’t kill you.”
Officer J. Roberts and I attempted to speak with Walker, but he kept talking over us in an antagonistic and provocative manner. We left Walker to his filming and moved back to the traffic stop that Officers Reynolds and Wiggs were conducting. Officer Reynolds found that Suspect 2 [Gary Gregory, 24] also had an FTA [failure to appear] warrant out of our department. While officers were dealing with the arrest of Gregory, Suspect 3 (Kushukuru) and Walker began walking toward our traffic stop.
Officer J. Roberts told Kushukuru and Walker to stop and not come into the area of the traffic stop. Officer Roberts repeated the command several times. Kushukuru and Walker ignored these commands. Kushukuru walked between our patrol vehicle and vehicle 1. Walker stopped at the rear of vehicle 1. Officer Roberts took Kushukuru into custody. I (Thompson) approached Walker and advised him to leave the area of the traffic stop. Walker moved to the front of vehicle 1 and onto the sidewalk by vehicle 1. I ordered Walker several times to leave or be arrested. Walker replied, ‘Arrest me,’ at which point I did.
At least eight officers were involved in taking four suspects to jail.
The police report noted:
While at the jail, Officer Wiggs overheard Walker state to a jailer, “I only want to file a complaint against the white officers.”
They were booked at the Pulaski County jail on the misdemeanor charge and were to be released on $1,000 bonds.
Walker championed legislation passed in 2015 that gave citizens a clear right to photograph events that take place in public. We noted at the time:
The issue is personal for Walker, who co-sponsored the bill. In 1998, Walker was driving with his daughter and two grandchildren and stopped to observe a traffic stop of young black men by white Pine Bluff police officers. Walker parked and walked across the street to observe the encounter. An officer walked over and asked him what he was doing and Walker stated that he was watching “Pine Bluff’s finest in action.” Walker was arrested for “obstructing governmental operations” and then, according to Walker’s testimony, the officer “drove Walker at varying speeds over dark wooded roads to the police station.” Walker was never charged and successfully sued the city of Pine Bluff.
The 2015 law waives the state’s sovereign immunity when the law is violated. Details of this case will be interesting, not to mention important to the court arguments that lie ahead.
We haven’t been able to reach Walker or Kushukuru as yet. We wrote about Walker’s young legal associate as a visionary Arkansan last year. We know him as Omavi Shukur.
A dash-mounted camera was in operation.
Arkansas Stop the Violence, a grassroots anti-crime group, issued a statement saying it was “disturbed” by Walker’s arrest given the violent crime that many have experienced. The statement said the arrested reflected a lack of sensitivity toward the black community.