Agencies: Little Rock Police Department Arkansas
Last updated: 7 months ago
On Dec. 9, 2010, Ellison, a 67-year-old black man, was killed in his home by Donna Lesher, an off-duty police officer. Ellison was involved in a confrontation with Lesher and Officer Tabitha McCrillis after the two came upon Ellison's open door while working off-duty security at the Big Country Chateau Apartments near University Avenue and went inside to investigate. The two officers called for backup. According to an on-duty officer who arrived on the scene, Lesher stepped outside the apartment. When Ellison picked up his cane, she shot him without issuing any warning.
An internal investigation into Ellison's killing by the LRPD homicide division cleared Lesher of all wrongdoing. Lesher's husband, Sgt. James Lesher, heads the division.
Ellison's sons — both veterans of the Little Rock Police Department — filed a federal civil rights lawsuit in 2011 alleging that their father's civil rights were violated. The case is still moving toward trial.
But the Guardian has learned of new testimony from another police officer who witnessed the shooting, which has cast doubt on Lesher's account and raised important questions over the original police inquiry and the county prosecutor's subsequent decision to rule the shooting justified.
In his testimony to lawyers for Ellison's sons, Vincent Lucio, one of four officers present when Ellison was shot, said he did not believe Ellison posed a deadly threat, according to the documents seen by the Guardian.
Lucio maintains that all of the officers, including Lesher, were outside Ellison's apartment when she fired inside his apartment at him – in apparent violation of the Little Rock police department's own rules on the use of deadly force.
LRPD general order 303 forbids officers from firing inside a building "unless the officer or someone else is drawing deadly fire and the suspect can be identified and is clearly visible".
Lucio also said that the four officers could have walked away from the scene, but instead Lesher opened fire, without issuing any warning to Ellison that she had a gun and would shoot.
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Former Little Rock Police Chief Stuart Thomas and Assistant Chief Wayne Bewley conceded in sworn depositions that the department likely failed to adequately scrutinize Eugene Ellison's autopsy report and officer Donna Lesher's account of the shooting.
At issue was the trajectory of the two bullets that struck Ellison's chest Dec. 9, 2010. Both bullets entered his chest and traveled at downward angles into his spine and lower back, according to the autopsy report.
The angles appear to contradict Lesher's statements that Ellison was standing upright when she shot him, according to an expert on accident reconstruction who was consulted by Ellison's family.