Family Demands Justice After Deputy Fatally Shoots Unarmed Teenager During Routine Traffic Stop
‘This is happening all across the country and this is happening too close to home for us,’ says the uncle of Hunter Brittain.
A community and a family in Arkansas are grappling with the death of an unarmed teenager who a sheriff’s deputy fatally shot during an early morning traffic stop.
On June 23, Hunter Brittain, 17, had spent the night working on his vehicle’s faulty transmission so he could make it to his job early the next morning, family said.
At around 3 a.m., Lonoke County Sheriff’s Sgt. Mike Davis pulled over the truck outside an auto repair shop on Arkansas Highway 89 near Cabot.
According to an eyewitness, Brittain’s truck “would not shift into park, so [the teenager] exited the vehicle to put a large bright blue plastic bottle of antifreeze behind the wheel to prevent the vehicle from rolling towards the deputy’s vehicle,” Benjamin Crump, a prominent civil rights attorney representing Brittain’s family, said in a statement. “Inexplicably, Davis shot him three times.”
.@AttorneyCrump, co-counsel Devon Jacob, @TheRevAl, and the family of Hunter Brittain to hold a public memorial service today, 7/6 at 12:30 p.m. CT., in Arkansas for Hunter Brittain. pic.twitter.com/f1towme7lz— Ben Crump Law, PLLC (@BenCrumpLaw) July 6, 2021
The shooting victim was airlifted to Baptist Health Medical Center-North Little Rock, where he was pronounced dead from his injuries.
“This is happening all across the country and this is happening too close to home for us,” Harley Brittain said of his nephew’s death, according to Little Rock’s KATV. “If he felt like he was in danger, he's got a Taser on his hip. He didn’t reach for that. He reached for his gun and shot a 17-year-old boy in cold blood, in his throat."
Citing an eyewitness’s claims, the uncle alleged the deputy did not give Brittain any warnings or a chance to get on the ground, the station reported.
Details of the shooting remain murky since Davis failed to turn on his body cam until after the shooting, and the department’s vehicles are not equipped with dashcams, according to Little Rock’s KTHV.
Sgt. Davis’s attorney, Robert Newcomb, countered the claims, saying: “In this case the young man never responded to any of the verbal commands or said anything to officer Davis.”
“It’s a tragedy that young Hunter died. Sergeant Davis is just torn up about it, as you can be,” Newcomb said. “I know he’s not as torn up as the parents. There’s no way to understand all their grief.”
Lonoke County Sheriff John Staley announced in early July that Davis, who had been with the force since 2013, was fired for violating official policy to “activate the camera before encountering any member of the public while taking official action and certainly as part of any traffic stop.”
Family members believe Davis should be charged with murder. “Justice looks like this officer getting what’s coming to them, just like any one of us would if we shot and killed somebody,” insisted another of the victim’s uncles, Jesse Brittain, KATV reported.
Crump and a second attorney, Devon Jacob, who both represented George Floyd’s family after he was slain at the hands of a Minneapolis cop in May 2020, hope taking on this case will help highlight the need for change in law enforcement practices and accountability since reportedly around half of all people fatally shot by police are white, like Brittain.
“Hunter Brittain's case is going to be so significant for building even greater interracial support to finally get meaningful police reform in America,” Crump said, according to USA Today.
Brittain family friend Pastor Rick Lehr noted at a July 6 memorial service in Beebe, Arkansas, that the teenager was “a very respectful and passionate young man” in whom “there was a longing to play a part in something bigger.”
“He was placed in the ground, and it has brought so much sorrow and so much pain to so many people,” Lehr said, “but what about the purpose we have now? Look at what God is doing. Hunter’s death is going to play a part in changing the world.”