DOWNTOWN LITTLE ROCK: On June 1, the night Don Cook was injured. Brian Chilson

On the morning of July 23, 2021, two Arkansas State Police patrol cars rolled up at the house across from mine, a gray-painted brick ranch on a boring middle-class street where we don’t usually see much excitement. One officer went toward the front door, but another slipped around to the side, a move I recognized from crime documentaries as a way to nab any runners.

The officer knocked, my neighbor Don Cook answered the door, and within a minute or two Cook was handcuffed and being perp-walked down the street, shoeless and in his pajamas, while nosy neighbors like myself peeped through our blinds.


A series of admittedly terrible cellphone pictures, captured as I hid behind the blinds and gutlessly spied on my neighbor getting arrested.

This was not what most people expect before heading off to work on a weekday morning, and certainly not of Cook. A 57-year-old attorney and single dad of three, dog owner and barbecue hobbyist, Cook decorates his yard with seasonally appropriate inflatables and drives a sensible Hyundai wagon. While I don’t know him well, Cook never struck me as a mafia kingpin or a cartel operative, someone whose arrest might require multiple officers and sly maneuvers to keep him from slipping out the back door.


As it turns out, Cook was in trouble for something that happened at the Black Lives Matter protest at the Arkansas Capitol more than a year before. On the night of June 1, 2020, Cook got shot by riot police with a bean bag bullet, necessitating three surgeries, a titanium jaw replacement and an entire row of tooth implants. Now, he was going to jail, too.

“It was incredibly uncomfortable. My wrists were bruised for a couple of days,” Cook later said about the morning of his arrest. “It was just a very strange experience, especially considering that all that I had ever done was get shot in the face.”



George Floyd’s murder at the hands of Minneapolis police kicked off protests across the country, including in Little Rock. Polling data suggests that 15 million or more Americans turned out to push back on police brutality and civil rights violations. In Arkansas, demonstrators situated themselves at the state Capitol for several days and nights at the end of May and the beginning of June 2020.

Governor Hutchinson declared a state of emergency over the protests, kicking into action a response by Arkansas State Police, local law enforcement, the state Department of Emergency Management and the Arkansas National Guard. Sen. Tom Cotton penned an op-ed in The New York Times on June 3 calling for police and the military to meet protesters with “an overwhelming show of force.” The response stopped short of “overwhelming” in Little Rock, but the bowed-up police and National Guard response that week did seem overzealous for what shook out to be a few dozen vandalism, disorderly conduct and trespassing charges.

Cook went to the Capitol the night of June 1 because he shared concerns about police brutality. “I  have a son on the autism spectrum, so I am very concerned about how police behave and what they do. There have been several incidents of children having bad interactions with police,” he said.

Video from that night, taken by an Atlanta-based journalist for The Heat Magazine, shows the Don Cook his neighbors all know: a man dressed for comfort in light-colored shorts and a peach golf shirt, wearing dad-appropriate sneakers. Recorded at night, the video captures flashes and sparks from the tear gas canisters thrown by police in riot gear. And you can hear voices over a loudspeaker: “This is the Arkansas State Police. Return to your vehicles and leave the area.” Cook appears to be doing that, albeit slowly. The footage captures him zigzagging away from the line of police as they advance, matching their pace to always stay a good 30 yards away.


And video from a Little Rock Police camera mounted across from the Capitol captures video of Cook at 10:36 p.m. that night, still milling around in the crowd more than half an hour after the citywide curfew. Cook sometimes had his hands up, and sometimes sat on the ground, facing the pack of police in riot gear who were preparing to advance.

“Hands up was an attempt to show the police that the crowd wasn’t causing trouble (not holding anything, not throwing anything),” Cook explained. “I saw someone else do this, and it seemed pretty reasonable. Similar thing with sitting down. Police were starting to fire tear gas and you could hear the firing starting to ramp up and the police lining up. The thought, mine anyway, was that maybe they wouldn’t rush a crowd of people peacefully sitting on the ground. However, they started firing tear gas towards the crowd and advancing in a line. That’s when I got up and tried to leave, heading away from the advancing line.”

Don Cook remained bloody and bruised when he was released from care at UAMS.

Cook’s memory of what happened next is spotty. But he recalls heading away from the crowd, going northward across the Capitol lawn, when, “all the sudden I’m on the ground. It was like the whole world exploded. I tried to get up and there were two guys on my back putting zip ties on me. I get up and I’m spitting blood and teeth on the ground. I remember telling someone I wasn’t doing anything. He said I shouldn’t have been out after curfew. Next thing I remember clearly is being in an ambulance and being asked, ‘Which hospital do you want to go to?’ ”

There doesn’t seem to be any video of exactly what happened that sent Cook to the hospital that night. State Police don’t wear body cameras, and while we scoured any video we could get our hands on, drone and police camera footage from that night is limited by distance and blocked by the leafed-out trees on the Capitol lawn. It shows lines of police in full riot gear, advancing on foot and with military style vehicles and hurling what looks like fireworks, but are likely flash bangs and tear gas canisters.

When asked about the trails of smoke and sparks caught on video flying through the air that night, Arkansas State Police Spokesman Bill Sadler said officers used tear gas and other crowd control tactics after protesters declined to leave when asked.

“It is equally important to underscore through this response, prior to the deployment of any less than lethal device, the Arkansas State Police throughout the demonstrations along Interstate 630 and others in proximity to the Capitol grounds, issued repeated verbal requests to non-compliant demonstrators asking them to disperse from the area prior to the deployment of any irritant gas or other less than lethal device,” Sadler said.

“Finally, I would ask that you take into consideration some of the devices deployed among the demonstrators were picked up by individuals and physically thrown back in the direction of law enforcement officers, along with commercial fireworks that also exhibit a visual trail and may be depicted in the video you were provided,” Sadler added.

Not surprisingly, the State Police affidavit against Cook differs from Cook’s own description of that night. It describes Cook as aggressive and agitated, walking toward police with fists clenched. Notably, the affidavit specifically describes their suspect as wearing a white shirt and red shorts. That doesn’t match the clothes Cook had on in the video taken earlier, nor does it match the blood-speckled, light-colored shorts he wore home when he was released from UAMS three days later. Whatever shirt he’d arrived in at the hospital was gone, having been cut off so he didn’t have to pull it over his injured face.


Cook has undergone a number of surgeries and procedures since then to clean out residue from the bean bag round, which sprayed granules of lead shot into his face tissue. Doctors grafted a bone on Cook’s broken jaw and installed seven screws and a titanium plate to hold it all together. Still, Cook’s eye droops, and he has hearing problems in one ear.

X-rays of Don Cook’s jaw taken on Sept. 29, 2020, show the damage he sustained from a beanbag round during a June 1 protest over the murder of George Floyd.

The law never came for Cook until he came for them. He wasn’t charged the night of June 1, 2020, when he left the scene in an ambulance. And Cook said he didn’t hear from law enforcement in the following months, either. In late 2020, Cook filed a case with the Arkansas Claims Commission in hopes of getting the state to cover some of the medical bills.

“At that point I had not been charged with anything. I had had no contact with the police whatsoever,” he said.

In the paperwork with the Claims Commission, Cook outlined the challenges he faced in the aftermath of his injury.

Upon information and belief, an Arkansas State Police Officer fired a non-lethal projectile at Mr. Don Lloyd Cook on or about June 1, 2020 at the Capitol. The projectile struck Mr. Cook in the jaw, causing him severe injuries, lost wages, and mental and emotional distress. Mr. Cook requires future surgeries and procedures to restore his mouth, teeth, and jaw and to correct the damage done by the incident.

It wasn’t until after Cook met with an Arkansas State Police attorney in May of 2021 to talk about his attempts to get the state to cover some of his medical bills that charges were filed against him.

The affidavit for Cook’s arrest explains that State Police hadn’t known Cook’s identity on the night of June 1, 2020, and since he was immediately taken to a hospital, they were never able to track him down to charge him. They used video from that meeting with the State Police attorney to identify Cook, and that’s when they pursued his arrest for a misdemeanor charge of obstructing governmental operations.


It was more than a year after the night of the protest when those two State Police officers rolled up to Lefever Lane. That morning proved traumatic for Cook’s three children, he said. His oldest son was asleep inside when police walked him to a patrol car. They did offer to let him grab his phone first if they could accompany him inside, but Cook declined, not wanting to scare his son.

His other two children arrived at the house shortly after he was driven off, and were surprised to find their dad wasn’t home, but his wallet, keys and phone were.

His booking at the Pulaski County Jail took more than four hours before Cook was released with no bond. The phones at the jail weren’t working that day, though, so Cook begged a ride home from a sympathetic bail bondsman whose office was close by.

The events of that morning could have all been avoided, Cook said, if someone had simply let him know there was a warrant out for his arrest. A data privacy attorney and a bit of a square, Cook said he would have complied. “I’m an officer of the court. I would have turned myself in,” he said.

Sadler with Arkansas State Police said sending out two officers to arrest Cook at home on a misdemeanor charge was “consistent with routine practices.” A warrant for Cook’s arrest “was served after state troopers learned his identity following the incident that occurred near the state Capitol,” Sadler said in an email. “One of the two state troopers present at the time of the arrest was there to confirm the identity since that particular trooper was present when Mr. Cook failed to comply with the order to disperse.”

On Nov. 17, 2021, Cook appeared in North Little Rock District Court on the charge, but asked for the case to be moved to Circuit Court. The next court appearance is set for January 26, 2022.