UPDATE: After slightly less than two hours of deliberation, a federal court jury found retired Police Lt. David Hudson was not liable for damages in a lawsuit brought by a man he punched during a 2011 arrest at a Little Rock restaurant. The verdict about 1:15 p.m. was unanimous.
Here’s what we wrote earlier:
A federal court jury began deliberating at 11:20 a.m. today in the civil lawsuit by Chris Erwin against retired Little Rock Police Lt. David Hudson for beating him in a Hillcrest restaurant in 2011. The beating was videotaped.
Erwin said Hudson, who was disciplined by the police chief afterward, used excessive force. Hudson, who was working as private security for the now closed Ferneau restaurant, said he used
Ferneau and the city of Little Rock were originally part of the lawsuit, but Erwin settled with them for an undisclosed amount last week, David Koon reports.
POST-TRIAL UPDATE FROM DAVID KOON: Five years and seven months after LRPD Lt. David Hudson beat Chris Erwin outside Ferneau’s restaurant the weekend before Halloween 2011, the case is finally over for both Erwin and Hudson, with the jury finding unanimously that Hudson was not liable for injuries Erwin suffered that night.
In his closing argument this morning, Erwin’s attorney Reggie Koch again told the jury, as in his opening statement, that they had an opportunity to support good police officers by showing that the community doesn’t support “bad cops” “The world is watching,” Koch told the jury, along with the LRPD and other agencies, who will use their verdict to decide how to train police. Koch again made the case that Erwin wasn’t drunk the night he was arrested, and was only asking Hudson questions about why he’d been thrown out of Ferneau’s when the beating happened.
“Hudson is one of these old school cops,” Koch said, “and he doesn’t like anyone asking him questions.” Koch would go on to call Hudson a “bully cop” who had “picked the wrong time” to use unnecessary force, because Maria Torres happened to be sitting nearby with a video camera.
Koch called the defense case mostly “smoke and mirrors,” saying several times that the focus on how much Erwin and his party had to drink, whether Erwin lived with his mother, and what happened after the Hudson punched Erwin seven times in the face was irrelevant. He said that even if Erwin’s friend Blake Mitchell had come up while Hudson was arresting Erwin and kicked or shot Hudson, it still wouldn’t have negated that Hudson had used excessive force against Erwin when he struck him. Hudson, Koch said, was “out of control with rage,” and brought up his own training in de-escalation from his former career as a cop. He said Hudson didn’t try everything short of punching Erwin, because he never tried to de-escalate the situation without violence. He said he didn’t know what Hudson’s issue was that night, suggesting that maybe Hudson was worried about his son in the Army, or that Erwin looked like a brother in law he didn’t like. Koch invited the jury to “send us home with our lunchbox” if they felt like Erwin’s attorneys hadn’t met their burden, but said to “let the hammer fall” with punitive damages if they had, in order to send a message to other police departments about use of force.
In his closing, attorney Bill James said that it never looks good with a police officer is hitting someone on video. But, he said, Erwin’s attorneys only wanted them to consider the blows that were struck, not why Hudson struck Erwin. He said that while Erwin “seems like a nice guy,” he repeatedly refused to follow the rules on Oct. 29, 2011 outside Ferneau. James said that whether he was drunk or not was important, because it might explain why Erwin had chosen to defy a police officer instead of submitting to arrest. James said that after Erwin approached Hudson outside Ferneau and said that it was his right to know who had thrown his party out, that took things to a “heightened level,” altering Hudson that Erwin could possibly be a danger to Hudson or other people.
“That he lives with his mom tells you who he is,” James said of Erwin. He said the only time Erwin began to comply was when he was handcuffed, and said that Erwin continued to resist even then, including his admission that he got up from his stomach while handcuffed, a feat Erwin had displayed for James during his testimony.
James called the punches delivered to Erwin’s face not haymakers but “speedbag punches.” “He’s trying to knock him into awareness that what he’s doing is unacceptable,” James said. As he was being struck, James said, the video shows Erwin putting his hands on Hudson’s face, adding that one has to be “a special kind of person to put your hands on a cop.” James then invited anyone in the courtroom who had ever put their hand on a cop’s face to raise their hand. “Only Mr. Erwin can say that,” James said.
Speaking about Erwin’s injuries, James said that no doctor had appeared in court to say that Erwin had lingering injuries from the incident, and that Erwin expected the jury to believe his cheek was still numb where he was struck because Erwin said so. While Erwin had repeatedly said he was embarrassed by the video of the incident, James said, he wouldn’t be embarrassed if the story was true that he was innocent and beaten by a rogue cop. James said the embarrassment came from Erwin being drunk and arrested while resisting. The attempt by Blake Mitchell to intervene in the arrest, James said, was indicative that “we’re turning into a society of entitlement.”
Hudson, James repeated, was a cop for 41 years, and had served at every level of the LRPD except administration, saying that Hudson had done nothing but sacrifice for the community his entire life. After talking about the testimony of videographer Maria Torres and then witnesses from Ferneau’s who said they saw Erwin and his party acting drunk and belligerent, James said that Erwin’s lawsuit was an “attempt to get money out of this office who has done nothing but serve this community.”
“He is nothing but a burglar who falls through the roof of a house, then sues the homeowner for damages,” James said. “It’s time to let Lt. Hudson go home, continue his job as a baliff, and retire in peace.” A verdict for Hudson would send a message, James said: “We’re going to let police officers do what’s reasonable.” Soon after James rested.
Outside the courthouse after the jury came back unanimously in his favor, former LRPD Lt. David Hudson, who now works as a bailiff in the courtroom of Pulaski County Circuit Judge Herb Wright, said ” I feel vindicated. I’ve always felt like my actions were proper.” He thanked the jury and his legal team, and said he was thankful for the country we live in and the legal system.
Also outside, Chris Erwin spoke at length, saying that he respected the jury’s verdict, he was “happy the story got out there” so that it might change things. He said he felt the verdict might have been different had the jury been able to hear that all the charges against him were dropped, that he was never found to be intoxicated the night of the altercation, that there was a previous incident four months earlier in which Hudson had punched another patron at Ferneau’s named Chase Cooper, and that an internal affairs investigation by LRPD found that Hudson had used excessive force in the incident outside Ferneau’s, resulting in a 30-day suspension without pay. Erwin said he has a personal letter from then-LRPD Chief Stuart Thomas in which Thomas said that he believed Hudson had used excessive force in his arrest, and would be disciplined. The letter was not allowed into evidence either. Once the judge in the case ordered those details excluded, Erwin said, he had “no doubt the jury decision would turn out like this.”
Erwin said that his goal in pursuing the case was never about money. He said the goal was to help “remove bad cops from the system.” While stating again that he wasn’t drunk that night, Erwin said that the amount of force Hudson used would have been excessive “even if I was drunk, dancing on tables, doing tequila shots.” He never resisted, Erwin said, and still has no idea why he was arrested and beaten. He said that once the altercation started, he was “petrified” as Hudson was “manhandling me like a child.”
“It’s all about getting it out,” he said, “so it doesn’t happened to my kids, or to you.”
Asked if he’s spoken to Hudson since the incident, Erwin said he hasn’t but would be open to doing so if Hudson asked him. “I wouldn’t be angry with him,” Erwin said. “I’m not an angry person.”
“I don’t know what set him off that night,” Erwin said, just before heading to his car. “Something set him off. Something was not right in his mind. He was enraged.”