RUSSELLVILLE, Ark. – A former Arkansas sheriff's deputy was charged Friday with manslaughter in the fatal shooting of a white teenager whose death has drawn the attention of national civil rights activists.
A special prosecutor announced the felony charge against Michael Davis, a former sergeant with the Lonoke County Sheriff's Office, in the fatal shooting of 17-year-old Hunter Brittain. Davis faces between three and 10 years in prison if convicted.
Davis shot Brittain during a June 23 traffic stop outside an auto repair shop along Arkansas Highway 89 south of Cabot, a city of about 26,000 people roughly 30 miles (48 kilometers) northeast of Little Rock.
Davis told investigators he shot Brittain once in the neck after the teen reached into the back of his truck and did not comply with his commands to show his hands, according to the arrest affidavit. Brittain was holding a container — which his family members have said held antifreeze — and no evidence of firearms were found in or near the truck, the affidavit said.
A passenger with Brittain said he and the teen had been working on the transmission for Brittain's truck. The passenger told investigators he never heard Davis tell the teen to show his hands.
Davis, who is white, was fired by Lonoke County Sheriff John Staley in July for not turning on his body camera until after the shooting occurred. Staley said there’s no footage from the shooting, only the aftermath.
Several members of Brittain’s family and friends shouted, “Thank you Jesus!” as Phillips announced the charge. Arkansas State Police said Davis surrendered Friday after the warrant was issued, and Phillips said a bond hearing would be held on Monday.
Jesse Brittain, the teen’s uncle, said he was glad to see Davis charged with something, though he would have preferred a more serious charge.
“This is something,” he told reporters after the announcement. “We’re going to take this and see what else (Phillips) has got to say and hopefully this will stick. He won’t be an officer no more and he can’t kill no more kids.”
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.
Brittain was eulogized by the Rev. Al Sharpton and two attorneys who represented George Floyd's family. They said the teen’s death highlighted the need for interracial support for changes in policing. Brittain's family and friends have regularly demonstrated outside the Lonoke County sheriff's office, demanding more details on the shooting.
Floyd died in May last year when a white Minneapolis police officer used his knee to pin the handcuffed Black man’s neck to the ground. His death sparked nationwide protests over policing and racial inequality.
Attorneys Ben Crump and Devon Jacob, who represent Floyd's family, joined with Brittain's family in calling the charge the “first step in the pursuit of justice for Hunter Brittain.” And Brittain's family repeated its call for the Arkansas Legislature to require officers to wear body cameras that would be turned on as soon as their shift begins.
“Nothing will bring Hunter back, but we can honor his memory and legacy by calling for justice and change in his name," the attorneys and family said in a statement.