At a press conference Thursday morning, civil rights attorneys Ben Crump and Michael Laux said they would file four new civil rights lawsuit in the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Arkansas on behalf of nine plaintiffs and against 50 Little Rock Police Department officers, including former police chief Kenton Buckner and the city of Little Rock for violations of the plaintiffs’ constitutional rights, Fourth Amendment violations and police misconduct.
Laux said the attorneys originally attempted to add several plaintiffs to Roderick Talley’s lawsuit against the LRPD and the city. Talley has become a vocal critic of the LRPD since his apartment was raided during a no-knock search warrant in August 2017. After a judge didn’t let the attorneys file the lawsuit with the plaintiffs added to Talley’s case, Laux and Crump decided to follow separate lawsuits individually. Laux said he and Crump no longer represent Talley.
Crump and Laux are seeking compensation for the plaintiffs, and said that “hopefully, city leadership” will agree to provide it. Laux added that the no-knock search warrants specifically target black people and poor people.
“These raids, at their essence, are really a tool designed to keep black folks and poor folks in their place,” Laux said. “To keep them scared, to keep them on their heels. It’s unconscionable.”
At the press conference, the attorneys highlighted the complaint filed on behalf of Little Rock residents Susan and Chris Davenport and Susan’s sons, Lloyd and Floyd St. Clair.
Lloyd, a former truck driver who was 59 years old at the time of the incident, was shot three times in September 2016 when his home was raided by the LRPD, and he now uses a colostomy bag.
In the Davenport and St. Clair lawsuit against the city and 29 LRPD officers, including Buckner, a judge issued a warrant for officers to search the property after an alleged drug buy took place at Lloyd St. Clair’s home. There were two neighboring houses on the property: one at 3220 King Road, where Susan and Chris Davenport lived, and one at 3114 King Road, where Lloyd and his brother Floyd lived.
Laux said the officers wanted to raid 3114 King Road, but they got an affidavit to raid the home at 3220 King Road. The basis for the warrant was for the alleged drug buy at St. Clair’s home, but the address listed on the warrant was for Susan Davenport’s home.
“[At] 3220, [officers had a] warrant, but no basis,” Laux said. “At 3114, [officers had a] basis, but no warrant. So what do they do? They raid them both. Without any mind whatsoever that these are separate dwellings, and if you want to enter two different dwellings, you need two different warrants.”
Lloyd St. Clair was shot three times through a wall during the raid.
“They would have you think [Lloyd] was Pablo Escobar,” Crump said. “That’s what they would have you believe if you read their search warrant and these affidavits. These are regular folks, your neighbors. These are people who did not deserve to be treated like Pablo Escobar.”
The attorneys assert that the LRPD’s internal investigation of the shooting tried to conceal the fact that there were two separate addresses because the department didn’t have a warrant to enter the home in which Lloyd St. Clair was shot. His case was later dismissed.
The attorneys filed three more lawsuits against the city and LRPD officers as violations of the Fourth Amendment during no-knock search warrants: one with plaintiffs Bruce Williams and Tracy Givan; one with plaintiff Derrick Davis; and one with plaintiffs Candice Caldwell and Faye Hernandez.
Laux said the attorneys need a “commitment” from the city that if it “agrees” that the plaintiffs were “aggrieved,” then it will compensate them.
“You’re gonna have to pay these people,” Laux said. “That’s just the way it is.”
The attorneys said they’re confident that the complaints illustrate the problems in the cases well.
“I think any reasonable city official reading that complaint is going to want to do something about it,” Laux said. “We’re hoping that we won’t have to file successive lawsuits, [and] we can take care of these folks maybe in a general pot kind of situation, or however they want to do it. We don’t want to bring people here for payouts if they don’t deserve it, but the people who [do] deserve payouts, deserve it.”
Laux added that the amounts the plaintiffs “deserve” vary according to the circumstances of the incidents, but said that it’s difficult to “quantify” a monetary sum that would ease the trauma of the raids.
The attorneys said that while the LRPD’s revised no-knock search warrant policy — which includes a pre-raid “threat assessment” — helps the citizens of Little Rock first and foremost,” it could be used in the lawsuits to show that “fixing this problem was feasible.”
“It eliminates the argument that they had no options. It shows that they could have done this policy a long time ago,” Laux said. “It doesn’t prove that these policies were bad, but once we prove these policies were bad, it shows they could have been changed.”
Crump and Laux said they have “great faith” in Mayor Frank Scott Jr. and Police Chief Keith Humphrey to change the future of the city and its police department.
“We think that they’re taking bold stances in the face of opposition, in the face of the status quo that wants things the way it used to be, that [wants] people like Charles Starks on the street so that he can shoot through windshields again,” Laux said. “These cases are important, because this is how Little Rock turns a corner. … We’re already encouraged by the relative scarcity and no-knock raids that have occurred since Mayor Scott has taken office.”
After the press conference, Laux said he and Crump were meeting with Scott’s office before the attorneys’ flights out of Little Rock.
*A previous version of this post reported that Laux and Crump would file the four lawsuits incrementally when in fact they filed all four today and, depending on how these play out, may file others.