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Ex-Lonoke County deputy gets year in jail, $1,000 fine for shooting death of Hunter Brittain

Mar 19, 2022

Jury convicts Davis of misdemeanor countby Teresa Moss |Today at 4:32 a.m. State troopers escort former Lonoke County sheriff’s deputy Michael Davis on Friday after he was convicted of negligent homicide at the Cabot Readiness Center in Cabot. More photos at arkansasonline.com/319trial/. (Arkansas Democrat-Gazette/Thomas Metthe) Former Lonoke County sheriff's deputy Michael Davis was convicted Friday of misdemeanor negligent homicide in the fatal shooting of 17-year-old Hunter Brittain during an early morning traffic stop June 23. A jury handed down a one-year jail sentence and a $1,000 fine -- the maximum penalty for the charge -- after finding Davis guilty. He is the first law enforcement officer to be convicted by an Arkansas jury for an on-duty shooting in recent history. Defense attorney Robert Newcomb filed an appeal immediately after sentencing and an appeal bond that allows Davis to return home without going directly to jail. Davis will be allowed to remain out of jail throughout the appeal process, which could take a couple of years. Davis, 31, was originally charged with felony manslaughter Sept. 17. The charges were brought by special prosecutor Jeff Phillips of the 5th Judicial District after Lonoke County prosecutor Chuck Graham recused himself from the case. The misdemeanor charge enables Davis to still be eligible to serve as a law enforcement officer. A majority of the Brittain family left the courtroom after the verdict and gathered in the parking lot of the Cabot Readiness Center, where the trial was held. They cried, played music and talked about Brittain being in Heaven, pulling out signs calling for justice for Brittain and chanting "Justice for Hunter." On the day Davis was charged, Rebecca Payne, Brittain's grandmother who raised him, said she wanted the felony charge because "we don't have to worry about him owning guns ... he can't kill no more kids." She reiterated that after the verdict was announced Friday. A woman who seemingly always has a hug and smile for everyone she knows cried tears of defeat at the back of the parking lot. She and other family members didn't stay to hear the sentencing hearing. The family didn't want Davis to go to jail, Payne said. She said they'd have been fine with probation. What they wanted was for Davis to never have a gun again. "He will never be forgotten," Payne said of her grandson. "He meant a lot to us. We are never going to forget about him ever." "It is what it is," said Jesse Brittain, Hunter's uncle. "We don't like it, but we accept it." Davis was fired from the Lonoke County sheriff's office July 1 after Sheriff John Staley said Davis failed to turn on his body camera in a "timely way." Davis has appealed the firing and awaits a grievance hearing. The case made national headlines and gained the attention of civil-rights activists, including the Rev. Al Sharpton, who spoke at Brittain's funeral July 6 at Beebe High School, where the teen attended school. 'JURY HAS SPOKEN' Brittain's family retained civil-rights attorneys Benjamin Crump and Devon Jacob soon after the shooting to handle the teen's estate and any civil suits. The attorneys have been involved in high-profile homicide cases that include George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, Trayvon Martin and Ahmaud Arbery. Jacob attended the entire trial. Crump was in town for a day of the trial. "He's had a fair trial and the jury has spoken, and the jury has spoken pretty firmly, if you think about it in the state of Arkansas," Jacob said Friday. "This verdict is actually pretty significant, and I think we need to put the labels aside of misdemeanor and felony and look at what the jury said here. What the jury said is that a law enforcement officer in uniform committed a crime. The jury has said that Hunter Brittain was unlawfully killed by Michael Davis. That's a strong finding." Jacob also discussed plans to file a civil suit against the Lonoke County sheriff's office for a failure of leadership that he says resulted in Brittain's death. Brittain, of McRae, was known to have a passion for vehicles and was test-driving his truck when he was pulled over by Davis just south of Cabot, a witness told Arkansas State Police investigators. The witness, a friend of Brittain's, said the teen had spent the previous hours working on the truck's transmission. During the stop, Brittain's car rolled backward toward Davis' vehicle, according to the deputy's testimony. In his last moments alive, Brittain jumped out of the truck, slipping on gravel as he made his way to the rear of the truck, Davis said. Davis said he shot Brittain when the teen put his hands into the back of the truck. As the bullet struck Brittain in the neck, Davis saw a container fly from the teen's hands and land on the ground, he said. Phillips said the teen was grabbing the container to put behind the wheel of his truck since it wouldn't shift into park. The case was a difficult one, Phillips said after Friday's verdict. "It is an emotional case as a prosecutor because we feel like we are connected to the law enforcement officers, and we are," he said. "When we are called on to do something like this, it is a challenge. It is an emotional day, really." Phillips said he never described Davis as a bad guy during trial for a reason. "I just said he was a good guy who made a really horrible decision and choice," Phillips said. "That makes it even worse. Just like I told the jury in closing: If he had been a bad guy, if he'd been an angry, mean cop who beat people up, it would have been much easier and I would have had a much different attitude with the jury, but it wasn't that and no one ever said that. "Even the victim's family, they saw this guy for what it was." Phillips said the state is "fine" with the verdict. He said he was surprised the jury came back with a sentence within about 20 minutes. WITNESSES TAKE STAND The trial primarily focused on whether Davis gave verbal commands to Brittain prior to shooting, something Davis said he did but two witnesses said they never heard. The prosecution called witnesses Jordan King and Landon Crowder to the stand. Both were Brittain's friends, and the three had spent the night and early morning replacing a transmission in the teen's truck. King was a passenger in the truck as Brittain test drove it. He testified it wouldn't shift into first gear or park when Brittain was pulled over. Crowder testified he was about 50 feet away when the shooting took place. Both testified they didn't hear any commands from Davis before the gunshot. The prosecution claimed both witnesses gave the same statement the night of the event, and that both witnesses had no contact with each other, primarily because King was handcuffed in the back of a police vehicle for three hours. Davis took the stand Thursday, the third day of the trial, and gave an emotional statement, often crying. He told the jury he is a husband and father of one child. He also said his wife is pregnant. "I didn't want to take anybody's life," Davis said. He said he became a deputy to help people. Davis was adamant throughout the trial that he gave several verbal commands prior to shooting, including get back in the vehicle, stop, and show me your hands. Newcomb said Friday that he was disappointed Davis wasn't found innocent but also pleased he wasn't convicted of manslaughter. "I accept the jury's verdict or I wouldn't be a trial lawyer," Newcomb said. The trial was a difficult one for the defense too, he said. "Unfortunately, a 17-year-old boy died," Newcomb said. "It is a very tragic situation. I think you can see from the State Police statement and jury trial statement that emotionally, as a human being, this upset him [Davis] greatly." Newcomb continued to stand by Davis' assertion that he had given verbal commands. "What I hope people take out of this case, for everybody's sake, if a police officer directs you to do something, they do it because if Mr. Brittain had stayed in the car, this would have never happened. If he had gone back to the car as he was told, this wouldn't have happened. If he'd shown his hands, this wouldn't have happened." Davis is one of five Arkansas law enforcement officers charged in an on-duty shooting since 2005, according to data collected by the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette and the Henry A. Wallace Police Crime Public Database. He is one of only three Arkansas officers to go trial for an on-duty shooting since 2005. Former Little Rock police officer Josh Hastings was charged with manslaughter after the Aug. 12, 2012, fatal shooting of 15-year-old Bobby Moore III. He told a jury he feared Moore was driving at him. Prosecutors argued the vehicle was stopped or going backward when the shots were fired. Hastings was tried twice in 2013, with both juries unable to reach a verdict. Nancy Regina Cummings, a former Alexander Police Department officer, was found innocent of a felony manslaughter charge by a jury in 2013 in the shooting death of 30-year-old Carleton Wallace. She told investigators her gun accidentally fired as she was handcuffing Wallace. Former Bella Vista police officer Coleman Brackney pleaded guilty to misdemeanor negligent homicide in 2010 before going to trial. He was sentenced to 30 days in jail and a $1,000 fine for the fatal shooting of James Ahern after a high-speed chase. He originally faced a manslaughter charge. Brackney was hired as the Sulphur Springs police chief in 2013. Former Arkansas State Police Trooper Larry Norman was the first of the five charged. He pleaded guilty to misdemeanor negligent homicide in 2007 without going to trial for the 2006 death of 21-year-old Joseph Erin Hamley, who had cerebral palsy and a mental disability. Norman believed Hamley was a fugitive searching for a gun, but Hamley had toy balls in his pocket. Norman was sentenced to 90 days in jail, a $1,000 fine, 12 months' probation and 30 days community service. There have been 159 non-federal sworn law enforcement officers arrested for on-duty shootings in the United States since 2005, according a report by Philip Matthew Stinson, a Bowling Green State University Criminal Justice Program professor who runs the public database. Of those arrests, 51 have been convicted of a crime, 57 have not been convicted and 51 cases are pending. Twenty-one of those convictions were from a guilty plea, 29 were the result of a jury trial, and one was by a bench trial, according to Stinson. Jesse Brittain (left) hugs his mother, Rebecca Payne, after former Lonoke County sheriff’s deputy Michael Davis was convicted of negligent homicide on Friday in Cabot. Davis shot Hunter Brittain, Payne’s grandson, during a traffic stop last year. More photos at arkansasonline.com/319trial/. (Arkansas Democrat-Gazette/Thomas Metthe)        Special prosecutor Jeff Phillips talks to reporters Friday after the conviction of former Lonoke County sheriff’s deputy Michael Davis. (Arkansas Democrat-Gazette/Thomas Metthe)

Jeff Phillips Investments

1 Investments

Jeff Phillips has made 1 investments. Their latest investment was in CleanCapital as part of their Series A on June 6, 2017.

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Jeff Phillips Investments Activity

investments chart

Date

Round

Company

Amount

New?

Co-Investors

Sources

6/15/2017

Series A

CleanCapital

$3.7M

Yes

6

Date

6/15/2017

Round

Series A

Company

CleanCapital

Amount

$3.7M

New?

Yes

Co-Investors

Sources

6

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