NORTH LITTLE ROCK — In a hastily arranged news conference Wednesday morning, North Little Rock police defended the use of deadly force that left a teenager dead.
The shooting happened Sunday in the Levy neighborhood of North Little Rock, and Charles Smith Jr., 17, was dead a little after 1:15 a.m.
Smith was a passenger in a vehicle that had been stopped by police in front of the Levy Church of Christ and was the last to exit the vehicle. The driver and other passenger have not been identified by police.
The news conference was to show media the dashboard camera footage from a police cruiser that assisted in the stop. The vehicle had been pulled over for speeding and what a report calls an “equipment violation.”
The officer who led the stop has not been identified and can be heard on the video telling the driver he was giving off a “strange vibe” that was causing concern on the officer’s part, but the conversation was mostly cordial. The driver even told the officers he was planning on becoming a police officer but was going to have to wait until he turned 21.
On the video, the driver then goes to sit on the sidewalk while the two other passengers exit the vehicle one at a time and are patted down. One officer asks the second passenger if he’s wearing Nike’s new Air Force 1 shoes but keeps inquiring if there’s marijuana in the vehicle, to which the second passenger said no. He then goes to sit on the sidewalk with the driver.
Smith then exits the vehicle and is patted down.
Police Chief Mike Davis, a department veteran of more than 30 years, said, “Three times he was told to stop reaching for his waistband.”
Then the stop goes sideways, and Smith is heard on the video saying, “I can’t go to jail. “ A struggle, in full view of the dashcam, takes place with Smith going to the ground and an officer saying, “it is a (expletive) gun.”
At the news conference, the video was slowed with the handgun circled in red.
The footage then shows the first shot rings out, and the driver and other passenger scramble for safety on the sidewalk and one rolls out of view.
“He is then observed engaging the slide back on the gun and again firing at officers, almost striking one officer in the face,” Davis said.
The officer on the ground returned fire and the other officer fired at Smith from very close range.
Smith died at the scene.
A small amount of marijuana was found, along with a stolen handgun on the driver’s side of the vehicle.
Possession of a handgun by a juvenile is a felony under Arkansas law.
Police spokesman Sgt. Brian Dedrick declined to say how much marijuana was found or the caliber of the handgun, and he said that the investigation was ongoing and that information would be included in the final report.
Davis said, “I offer my condolences to the Smith family and my prayers as well.”
Smith’s family and their attorney Willard Proctor, the former judge who was removed from the bench, viewed the video on Wednesday morning, along with Prosecuting Attorney Larry Jegley and his office.
“Both Jegley and this office feel that this this video needs to be released,” Davis said. “Misinformation has caused concern in our community and I want to ease that. … I hope that it will get the truth out.”
Davis added that the department and its officers have “received threats” over the shooting and while one officer is identified in the video, he asked the media not to report the name out of safety concerns.
Smith was a senior at North Little Rock High School. District Superintendent Kelly Rogers and school board member Tracy Steele were also in attendance at but did not participate in the news conference.
Proctor said Wednesday afternoon that his office was still in the process of reviewing the information in the case but that he is representing Smith’s family.
Davis said Smith’s race wasn’t an issue.
“I think you can see from the video,” Davis said. “It wouldn’t have mattered who it was. The young man decided to pull a weapon out and fire at officers, who returned fire.”