Prosecutor: Police justified in shooting of Arkansas teen
In this image from a July 25, 2017 police body camera video released by District Prosecuting Attorney's Office, Aries Clark, 16, holds a black BB gun that looked like a handgun before he was shot in Marion, Ark. (District Prosecuting Attorney's Office via AP)
A black teenager pointed a BB gun that looked like a handgun at police before he was fatally shot by officers outside an emergency youth center in eastern Arkansas, a prosecutor said in announcing no charges would be filed against the officers.
Prosecuting Attorney Scott Ellington on Wednesday released body camera footage that shows 16-year-old Aries Clark was holding and raising what appeared to be a pistol on July 25 outside East Arkansas Youth Services in Marion.
The officers "ordered, cajoled, encouraged and begged" Clark to get rid of the gun, Ellington wrote in a letter to the head of Arkansas State Police, which investigated the shooting. In one video, an officer can be heard promising to put his gun down if Clark drops his, telling the teen: "You're somebody's kid, man. We don't want to do this."
Ellington said the two officers who fired their weapons — Brannon Hinkle and Wesley Smith — were justified in using lethal force. Both officers are white.
"Clark's actions that day brought about the circumstances that threatened the lives of at least four law enforcement officers had the gun he brandished been a firearm, as was perceived by the responding officers, and I cannot find that the officers acted criminally," Ellington wrote.
"Therefore, I find the officers were justified under these circumstances and no criminal charges will be filed in the matter."
The teenager's grandmother, Vickie Burks, disagreed and said her grandson wasn't violent.
"I think it's unfair and unreasonable," Burks said. "If you're a trained police officer, you can injure someone and not kill them."
An attorney said the Clark family had not been contacted by authorities about the decision. Attorney Kim Cole said the family had not viewed the footage released, but said her office had begun to review it.
"We will proceed with our independent investigation and continue our review of the footage. We will make a determination of next steps once our investigation has concluded," Cole said in a statement.
The teenager's mother, who declined comment Wednesday, told a Tennessee television station last month that the family had been trying to get help for her son because he was being disruptive.
Only Smith's shots hit the teen, according to Ellington's letter. Hinkle was on the southwest side of the building in Marion, a city just northwest of Memphis, Tennessee, while Smith was behind a tree on the building's northwest side.
Smith fired four shots when Clark raised his gun at Hinkle and the other officers, striking Clark three times in the back of his head, his back and his buttocks, Ellington wrote. Police recovered a 1911 BB pistol from the location where Clark fell after he was shot. Hinkle fired two shots at Clark, but neither hit the teen.
The youth shelter contracts with the state to provide services to children in foster care or to children and teens who have been involved in the juvenile justice system.
Ellington said Clark had been placed at the facility by court order, but had left two days before the shooting without permission or court approval. Ellington did not say why the teen had been placed at the facility.
Clark was initially denied re-entry, and police were called when he returned a second time, which Ellington said was a common practice to ensure residents who walked away don't have drugs or weapons before they're allowed back in.
Madelyn Keith, the executive director and CEO of East Arkansas Youth Services, said last month that Clark wasn't a resident at the time of the shooting. She did not immediately return a call for comment Wednesday.
The first officer to arrive observed Clark was holding what appeared to be a handgun, according to Ellington's letter. Several other officers, including deputies with the Crittenden County Sheriff's office, responded.
Marion Police Chief Gary Kelley said the officers, who had been on paid administrative pending the investigation, will return to work. Kelley declined commenting beyond Ellington's letter.