17-Year-Old Caught In Deadly Crossfire Between Arkansas Sheriff’s Deputy, Jug Of Antifreeze
Hunter Brittain was 17 years old when he died. What we know definitively is that an Arkansas sheriff's deputy shot and killed him at 3 a.m. last Wednesday. It's almost a week later, and Brittain's family still has no straight answers from the Lonoke County sheriff's office.
There is a witness to Brittain's shooting. Jordan King, 16, told local station KATV that he'd worked with Brittain most of the night to change the transmission on his truck so he could make it to his construction job at 6 a.m. They took the car to Mahoney's Body Shop, which a family friend owns. Once they'd left the auto shop, Sheriff's Office Sgt. Michael Davis pulled them over on Arkansas Highway 89.
King claims Brittain's truck wouldn't go into park, so Brittain left the vehicle and tried to grab a jug of antifreeze to put behind his truck's tires so it wouldn't hit the deputy's car. This is when Davis allegedly fired his weapon without telling the 17-year-old Brittain to stop or get on the ground.
"They didn't say one word that I know of. I didn't hear it and it happened so fast," King said.
Brittain's truck was probably a piece of crap, but what he needed was a lift to work. Instead, he was shot down like a dog.
UPDATE: The crowd has walked to the front of the Lonoke County Sheriff department asking for them to come out and s… https://t.co/ZWK9wi27mv— Mills Hayes (@Mills Hayes) 1624580495.0
Another deputy arrived and quickly detained King, even though it's not a crime for a high school student to watch his friend get killed in front of him.
"[He] told me get out with my hands up and pull my shirt up and stuff, and then took me to the ground, put me in handcuffs and was dragging me around and stuff," King said. "And then I sat in the back of the cop car for about three hours."
King hadn't done anything wrong, but they kept him in cuffs for hours. The Arkansas State Police later interviewed him, as well, but despite authorities having an eyewitness to Brittain's shooting, Davis remains free and is currently on
paid vacation administrative leave pending an investigation. But what's to investigate? He shot a kid without apparent warning, according to the eyewitness.
Brittain was an aspiring NASCAR driver from McRae, Arkansas. He'd worked at Hundley Construction for the past few years. His boss, Scott Hundley, described Brittain as a dedicated, hard worker. Brittain had spoken with Hundley the night before he was killed. He explained he was having trouble with his truck but would make every effort to arrive at work on time.
The police's statement after Brittain's shooting said the teen "sustained a gunshot wound and was transported to a North Little Rock hospital, where he later died." Special agents assigned to the state police Criminal Investigation Division are apparently leading the investigation. They shouldn't need to call in Columbo to crack this case. They had the eyewitness in custody for hours. That would seem like a slam dunk if the cops were interested in playing ball.
Rebecca Payne, Brittain's grandmother and guardian, told VICE News that the police have provided no answers — you'll pardon us if we're assuming it's because they're too busy covering their tracks. She said the police weren't even the first to inform her that her grandson was dead. She learned what happened from other people on the property where he was killed.
"I guess I don't trust any police right now," Payne said. "Won't nobody tell us anything. The body hasn't been released. None of the information has been released to us. We've been told a lot of different things."
Brittain's death has resulted in the protests that police around the country find so damn irritating. Lonoke County Sheriff John Staley said last week that "like everyone, I want to know exactly what happened," but everyone needs to just chill as the official investigation plods along. They're probably running a thorough background check on that jug of antifreeze.
"In potentially dangerous situations, deputies are often forced to make split-second decisions," Staley said. "Second-guessing those decisions, especially when the facts are still unclear, is dangerous and unfair."
What's dangerous is when the police stop civilians but get so spooked they gun them down. The police, who are theoretically trained, are allowed to make split-second decisions, but the public must patiently wait days, even weeks, after an officer has seemingly killed someone for no good reason.
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Stephen Robinson is a writer and social kibbitzer based in Portland, Oregon. He writes make believe for Cafe Nordo, an immersive theatre space in Seattle. Once, he wrote a novel called “Mahogany Slade,” which you should read or at least buy. He's also on the board of the Portland Playhouse theatre. His son describes him as a “play typer guy."