UPDATE: After a bond hearing the morning of Sept. 20, former Lonoke County Sheriff’s Office Deputy Sgt. Michael Davis is out on a $15,000 bond. According to court records, Davis will be in court at 2:00 p.m. on Nov. 15.
Former Lonoke County Deputy Sgt. Michael Davis is being charged with felony manslaughter in the June 23 shooting of 17-year-old Hunter Brittain of McRae during a traffic stop on Arkansas Highway 89.
Special prosecutor Jeff Phillips of the 5th Judicial District announced the charge Friday at the Pope County Courthouse. A bond hearing will be held Monday for Davis, who reportedly turned himself in to authorities around noon Friday. Arkansas State Police officials said Davis was taken to the Lonoke County jail and is being held at another, undisclosed jail.
Phillips, who was named special prosecutor for the case July 12, reportedly received the deadly-force investigative file July 15 from the state police, who “did a really good job investigating the case,” he said. “They have been more than cooperative with me and helped me in every way.”
When Phillips announced that an affidavit on the case was presented to a judge Friday morning with an arrest warrant for Davis, the audience gathered at the courthouse burst in applause. One of the audience members could be heard saying, “Thank you, Jesus!”
Phillips said the investigation by the state police of the officer-involved shooting was requested after the shooting occurred at 7180 Arkansas Highway 189 S. in Cabot.
“At approximately 3 a.m., Lonoke County Sheriff’s Officer Sgt. Michael Davis initiated a traffic stop near Mahoney’s Body Shop,” Phillips said. “Davis stopped a white GMC pickup truck that was operated by Noah Hunter Brittain. As Brittain exited his truck, he moved to the rear of the vehicle as it was rolling backwards towards the front of Davis’ patrol vehicle. Davis fired one round – one round from his county-issued firearm – striking Brittain in the lower right neck. Brittain then fell to the ground.”
How many shots were fired by Davis had been in dispute, with at least one family members saying it was three.
“Davis notified his dispatch that shots had been fired and requested assistance,” Phillips continued. “The passenger, Jordan King, was detained by a Lonoke County Sheriff’s Office deputy. After placing King in custody, Davis and the deputy cleared the truck. After they cleared the truck, they proceeded to render aid to Brittain. Brittain was transported to Baptist Health Medical Center in North Little Rock by MEMS [Metropolitan Emergency Medical Services]. Brittain later succumbed to his injuries.”
Phillips confirm that “after reviewing Davis’ body camera footage, it was determined that his camera was not activated until after the shot was fired.”
Davis was fired by Lonoke County Sheriff John Staley on July 1 for violating policy by not having his body camera on during the fatal shooting.
Phillips said when Davis was interviewed, the deputy told investigators “that at approximately 3 a.m., he was traveling southbound on state Highway 89 south near Forbus Road where he observed a white GMC truck. As he initiated the traffic stop on the truck, he continued briefly in the southbound lane, crossed the center line and stopped in the northbound lane. Davis says before he could put his vehicle in park, he heard the truck’s engine rev up and then begin to travel southbound in the northbound lane.”
“Davis did not notify dispatch on the radio that he was in pursuit because he realized the truck was attempting to turn left into Mahoney’s Body Shop,” Phillips said. “He indicated before he could get his patrol vehicle in park, Brittain opened his door and quickly exited the vehicle. Davis observed that Brittain tripped on the gravel as he was moving quickly to the rear of the truck.”
Phillips said, “He gave several commands,” before correcting himself to say, “He alleges he gave several commands.” However, Davis reportedly said “Brittain did not comply with his commands to get back in the truck.”
“Davis observed the truck rolling backwards toward his patrol vehicle,” Phillips said. “He continued, he alleges, to give commands, instructing Brittain to show his hands and to stop.
“Davis said Brittain began reaching with both hands into the bed of the truck. He indicated that as Brittain began to bring his hands from the bed of the truck, he discharged his weapon one time toward Brittain. Davis says as he observed the bullet strike Brittain, a container came from Brittain’s hands that originated from the bed of the truck. The container landed on the ground.”
Davis reportedly “was asked to clarify if he could see Brittain’s hands or see what was in Brittain’s hands prior to discharging his county-issued firearm,” Phillips said. “Davis replied he could not see Brittain’s hands nor what was in his hands prior to discharging his county-issued firearm.”
King also was interviewed, reportedly telling investigators “that he was with Brittain and another friend working all evening on a transmission for Brittain’s truck.”
“As King and Brittain went on test drive in the truck, they took a right turn on to Highway 89 from Mahohney’s Body Shop,” Phillips said. “King says they traveled approximately 1 mlle to a church parking lot and turned around to return to the shop.
“King noticed the deputy began to follow them and the deputy pulled them over just before the Mahoney’s Body Shop driveway. Brittain slowed down, put his blinker on and pulled to the left side of the roadway.”
King reportedly said he and Brittain were laughing while getting pulled over because they “thought it was funny because the truck was smoking and Brittain was trying to get off the highway.”
“King says as they stopped in the parking lot, both of them opened their doors to let the smoke out,” Phillips said. “King said that Brittain immediately stepped out of the truck, went to the rear of the truck and King heard a gunshot.
“King said that he never heard anyone say, ‘Show me your hands,’ or words similar to that before hearing the gunshot. There was no evidence of firearms located in or around Brittain’s truck and there never has been since the investigation.”
Phillips said he wanted to make clear that “the allegation with arrest warrant is merely an allegation by the state of Arkansas. It is a charging document only. It does not confirm guilt, only a jury can do that so please do not confuse the document that has been prepared with any kind of final adjudication.”
“I will not between now and when this case proceeds, issue any extrajudicial comments,” he added. “It’s inappropriate and it’s unethical. I will not try the case in the press. ... “I don’t want to jeopardize this case; it’s too important.”
He said “this defendant will be treated as anyone else.” Noting that “emotions are going to continue to run high,” Phillips said this case is going to proceed. He said the class C felony charge carries and three- to 10-year sentence, and that the allegation against Davis is “that in the early morning in question, he acted recklessly in his behavior and he discharged his firearm.”
An attorney for Davis said the former deputy would plead not guilty.
“While he has said all along it was a tragic event, there’s no criminal act on his part,” attorney Robert Newcomb said.
Rebecca Payne, Brittain’s grandmother who had been raising him for the last five years before he died, said after the announcement that “we are one step closer” to justice being done. “We are happy with that.”
She said she and Brittain’s supporters were hoping it would be a murder charge, but “like I said, as long as he [Davis] does some time and as long as he’s got that felony and he can’t have a gun in his possession, we will be happy with that. But this is just the first step; we still got to get a conviction, and we will all be there for that.”
Payne said there are supporters for Brittain from all around the United States and “then some. And they are all out there for justice for Hunter, and that’s what we’ve been wanting.”
She said if Brittain, a Beebe High School student, could see everything that happened Friday at the courthouse, “he would be happy. He has been happy just knowing that all of these people have been here, being behind him. It’s amazing all the stuff all these people out here have done.”
Payne said Brittain’s family and supporters are going to continue to push to get Hunter’s Law passed concerning officers keeping their body cameras on while on duty.
“We need police reform really bad; we want Hunter’s Law about the body cams,” she said. “You’ve got to have your body cams on because this would have been a lot different if he had that body cam on. That would be amazing if we can get Hunter’s Law and get it where every police officer has to have that body cam on at all times.”
Hunter’s uncle, Jesse Brittain, said the family was happy that Davis “is charged with anything. We were really nervous about this and wasn’t really expecting … it was like a 50/50.”
“We are thankful that he is charged and that he won’t be able to get out and kill any more kids; we’re thankful for that,” Jesse Brittain said. “It’s a felony charge. If it sticks, he won’t be allowed to carry a gun. He won’t be allowed to be a police officer anymore. Maybe some of these other officers that ain’t doing things right will see that and that will keep them in check.”
Payne had earlier held up a blue antifreeze jug and said, “This is what he [Hunter] was reaching for to put behind the wheel of the truck.”
Jesse Brittain called waiting to see if Davis would be charged “a long, hard road. We finally got some answers.” However, he said that he doesn’t feel the maximum sentence of 10 years for manslaughter “is enough for my nephew’s life. But I’ll take it.”
Jesse Brittain said Hunter was “just an awesome kid. He would have been a NASCAR driver, there is no doubt in my mind about that. He would have made it. He was stubborn. He was going to get what he wanted no matter what it took.”
Jesse Brittain said there may be federal charges coming for Davis as well. “We’ll have to see how that turns out.”
The family’s attorneys, Ben Crump and Devon Jacob, issued a statement, saying, “These charges are just the first step in the pursuit of justice for Hunter Brittain whose life was tragically ended by this unjustified use of deadly force. Not only did former officer Michael Davis shoot and kill Hunter, who was unarmed and posed no threat, but he also failed to follow protocol by not activating his body cam until after he shot the teenager. This is the latest example of law enforcement shooting first and asking questions later.
“Former officer Davis shot Hunter before he knew what Hunter had in his hand – a container of antifreeze coolant. When officers fail to use their body camera, they fail to be transparent. Instead of answers, the family is left with questions about how a traffic stop could lead to the tragic killing of their young loved one.
“Nothing will bring Hunter back, but we can honor his memory and legacy by calling for justice and change in his name. We hope to see former officer Davis held to the fullest extent of the law and we will continue to call for the passage of ‘Hunter’s Law,’ which advocates for heightened body camera enforcement and transparency, so not one more family will have to suffer loss of this magnitude at the hands of law enforcement.”