Arkansas deputy guilty of negligent homicide in teen’s death

Posted at 12:12 PM, March 18, 2022 and last updated 7:48 PM, July 12, 2023

CABOT, Ark. (AP) — A former Arkansas deputy was convicted Friday of negligent homicide but acquitted of the more serious offense of manslaughter in the fatal shooting of a white teenager whose death had drawn the attention of national civil rights leaders and activists.

Jurors found Michael Davis, a former sergeant with the Lonoke County sheriff’s office, guilty in the shooting death last year of 17-year-old Hunter Brittain during a traffic stop outside Cabot, a city of about 26,000 people roughly 30 miles (48 kilometers) northeast of Little Rock. The jury deliberated for less than three hours.

Arkansas State Troopers escort former Lonoke County sheriff’s deputy Michael Davis into the Cabot Readiness Center on Thursday, March 17, 2022, for the third day of Davis’s manslaughter trial in Cabot, Ark. Jurors began deliberating Thursday in the manslaughter trial of the former Arkansas deputy, who fatally shot Hunter Brittain, an unarmed 17-year-old, during a traffic stop. (Staci Vandagriff/The Arkansas Democrat-Gazette via AP)

The Arkansas Democrat-Gazette reported that a sentencing hearing began after the verdict was announced. Davis faces up to a year in jail for the misdemeanor charge. Manslaughter is a felony for which he would have faced between three and 10 years in prison.

After the verdict was announced, Brittain’s family and friends chanted “justice for Hunter” outside the Army National Guard facility that was used for the trial, which began Tuesday.

Rebecca Payne, Brittain’s grandmother, said family members wanted the deputy convicted of the felony to ensure he could not serve as a law enforcement officer again.

“Now what’s going to happen? Are people going to have to fear for their lives again?” she told reporters.

Davis, who is white, was fired after the shooting by the Lonoke County sheriff for not turning on his body camera until after the shooting occurred. Davis’ body camera footage, presented at the trial, shows only the moments after the shooting.

Davis told investigators he shot Brittain once in the neck during the stop outside an auto repair shop after the teen exited his truck and reached into the bed of the pickup while failing to 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, investigators said.

A passenger with Brittain said he and the teen had been working on the transmission for Brittain’s truck Brittain’s family members have said he was grabbing the container to place behind the truck’s wheel to stop it from rolling backward.

The passenger and another witness testified they never heard Davis tell the teen to show his hands.

Emotionally recounting the shooting, Davis testified Thursday that he thought the teen was grabbing for a gun in the truck’s bed.

“I didn’t get into this job to kill people,” Davis said.

Brittain was eulogized last year 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 2020 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.