LITTLE ROCK, Ark. — The family of a man shot and killed by a Little Rock police officer last year filed a federal civil rights lawsuit Thursday, claiming his death could have been prevented and questioning the way the police department handled its investigation of the shooting.
Attorneys for the family of 46-year-old Roy Lee Richards filed a lawsuit against the officer, the city and the chief of police. Richards, who was black, was fatally shot Oct. 25 after police said he pointed a long gun at his uncle. The lawsuit says the weapon was later determined to be an air rifle that was pointed at the ground at the time Richards was shot and killed by Officer Dennis Hutchins, who is white. The lawsuit claims Hutchins did not have approval to use the assault rifle he fired at Richards.
“The bottom line is this: Roy Richards was executed that early morning by officers who never gave him a warning, who should not have been using an assault rifle and who quite literally hid in the dark, behind bushes and cars, and when they got a free shot, they took it,” Mike Laux, an attorney for the family, said at a news conference at the state Capitol.
Richards’ uncle, Derrell Underwood, called police to his home because he wanted his nephew removed from his property. Police said they found the two men fighting in the front yard, and they stopped as officers approached. Richards pulled the long gun out of his car and chased his uncle, police said at the time.
The lawsuit cites Underwood’s statement to investigators that he had entered his home and locked his door when he heard police shoot Richards. It also cites another witness who said Richards was coming down Underwood’s front porch steps when he was shot. The lawsuit also said that Hutchins never warned Richards he would use deadly force or ordered him to drop his weapon.
Pulaski County Prosecuting Attorney Larry Jegley announced in March that Hutchins would not face any charges in the shooting.
Little Rock City Attorney Tom Carpenter declined to comment on the lawsuit, but noted in an email to city directors and the mayor that neither police nor prosecutors found any wrongdoing by Hutchins. He also wrote that the constitutional standard for using deadly force is whether the officer reasonably believes there is a threat of death or serious physical injury to the officer or another person. He wrote that LRPD’s standard is even more demanding and requires the threat to be immediate.
“Hence, the fact that a brandished weapon turns out not to be a lethal weapon has nothing to do with the reasonableness of the officers perspective since that (is) applying 20/20 hindsight to a situation under vastly different circumstances,” Carpenter wrote.
The lawsuit seeks compensatory and punitive damages, though it doesn’t specify an amount. Vanessa Cole, Richards’ sister, said her brother’s death had left a major void in the family.
“My brother was shot in the head, but it blew the family’s brains out,” she said.
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